Archive for Giving

Reporting a story on giving and community needs

Photo by Al Clayton

After you’ve measured the size and impact of charitable giving, you can report on how it contributes to solving particular community problems.

Choose a community need that is significant for low-income people – educational opportunity, health care, or housing. Then follow these steps to do a story about what your community does to help address this need, and what role is played by charitable giving.

Step 1.

Describe the size of the need: Look at Census data to see the percentage of people in your community without health insurance, or with education less than a high school diploma. Compare to 10 years ago – has the proportion increased or decreased.

Ask government agencies and statewide associations about how they measure the problem, and how that has changed over time. How many are served, and how much of a shortfall do they estimate there is, between government services and the population in need? This is a way of measuring the gap that must be filled by nonprofits and charitable giving.

Step 2.

Compare needs to resources: Develop a list of public charities in your area that provide services for this need. You may be able to start from the total list of nonprofits for your market area, and filter by name and category.  So for example, if you are looking at educational opportunity for low-income adults, eliminate from your list private schools, youth homes, and associations of educators.

Have any nonprofits in this category closed their doors for lack of funds in recent years?

Review the income of these charities. Compare the income of these nonprofits to the income for nonprofits overall. What is the total income of the public charities serving this need? What percentage is that of the total revenue for nonprofits in your area?

Look at the 990 forms for these organizations for the past three to five years. Has their income increased or decreased? What portion of their income is from government grants, and how much from private donations? Have staff numbers decreased? Are they spending more on fundraising now?

How does that affect the number of people served? Have they eliminated any services or programs?

Don’t neglect religious congregations, which often have human service projects in the community but are not required to file 990s. [As of 2010, more than a third of all private donations went to religious organizations; this has been the leading category of donation recipients nationwide for 56 consecutive years.]

Photo by Lisa Schnellinger

Step 3.

Gauge the impact of funding shifts: Talk to the staff at these nonprofits. How well do they feel they serve the population in need? Have they lost government grants, and if so, how did they make up for it? Do they spend more time raising money and less time providing services?

How has their program changed to fit the financial picture? Did any major donors exert influence on how the organization carries out its role in the community?

What do volunteers contribute to the effort? Does the nonprofit make any calculation of the value of volunteer time? Have volunteer hours increased or decreased?

Ask them to connect you with people in the community who have been cut from programs when the money dried up.

Step 4.

Talk to those who benefit from public charity programs. Do they feel their needs are being met? Does it matter to them whether the service is provided by the government or a private organization?

Try to walk in their shoes, to have a sense of what it feels like to live according to the whims of charity.  Sit in the emergency room and talk to people who are there because it’s the only way to get health care when you don’t have insurance.  Or interview people who are standing in a long line, waiting to talk to a counselor about student loans. Spend an evening on a chilly street corner with a guy who’s begging for coins at Christmas, as he watches people come out of shiny stores carrying big packages.

Step 5.

Study the motivations behind giving: Talk to philanthropists and business donors in your community.

Start by reviewing the 990-PF forms of the private foundations (which can be found through any of the nonprofit data sources). Where are they contributing money? How has that changed? Have they shifted to fill gaps left by declines in government funding, or is their recipient mix basically consistent over time?

You can talk to the board members of these foundations about how they view their role in the community. Ask how their philanthropic mission has evolved over time, and what drives it.

Find individual and business donors by scanning the lists of sponsors and supporters, usually listed on printed programs of fundraising events and organization websites. You can also look for names of wealthy individuals in the “Charitable Remainder Unitrust” listings among the nonprofits in your area. These are set up as irrevocable trusts, whereby the individual receives a percentage of the assets until their death, and the remainder is given to charity.

You can ask them how they decide among the many requests for assistance. What motivates them? How do they see the role of charitable contributions in society? In what ways does supporting the community help their business, too?

Often, personal experiences move a person to contribute in a particular sector. Have their charitable donations changed over time, based on the needs of the community?

Update on charitable giving, mental health in Athens-Clarke County

Okay, I meant to put this up earlier this week, but here’s my first draft outline of my story. I’ve incorporated feedback from everyone, so hopefully it will help focus this case study a little better!

General overview:

This story is going to focus on mental health, charitable giving and nonprofits, and whether charitable giving helps serve (or underserve) the needs of a community. This story is going to focus specifically on Athens-Clarke County and a few of its nonprofit organizations (Advantage, Nuci’s Space, North Ga. Cottage, Family Counseling Services of Athens — this list is still being refined) — specifically their histories, needs, how much charitable giving they’ve received in the last few years, and where those donations are coming from. In addition, I’ll be trying to get in touch with a few patients/clients who have used mental health services and treatments with these programs and understand their experiences, and whether they feel their needs are met in the community.

Mental health in Georgia:

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (2010), out of Georgia’s total population of 9.7 million, almost 350,000 adults and 111,000 children live with serious mental illnesses, while about 110,000 children.

Untreated mental illnesses can have serious consequences on the individual and state level, according to NAMI. In the 2006-2007 school year, 50 percent of Georgians ages 14 and older who had been diagnosed with a serious mental illness dropped out of high school. In addition, state prisons and juvenile systems are burdened — in 2008, approximately 12,600 adults diagnosed with mental illnesses were incarcerated in prisons in Georgia, and an estimate 31 percent of female and 14 percent of male jail inmates nationally live with serious mental illnesses.

Suicide is can be another consequence of untreated mental illness, says NAMI. According to a 2005 report done by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Georgia Dept. of Human Resources, suicide is the cause for 900 deaths, 2,800 hospitalizations and 5,400 hospital emergency room visits.

According to NAMI, public health providers may inadequately fulfill the needs of mental health treatments in a community.  Georgia’s public mental health system provides services to only 21 percent of adults who live with mental illnesses. In addition, mental health agency services take up little of state spending — Georgians spend $61 per capita on agency services, or $565 million, which is only 1.7 percent of state spending for that year (2006 figures). These figures show that there is a need for mental health services, and while nonprofits can try to fill the need that public mental services may not be able to provide, there still can be a charitable giving gap.

Charitable nonprofits and giving in Athens Clarke County

According to 2010 NCCS figures, charitable giving in Athens-Clarke County accounts for $55,971 worth of itemized contributions reported, out of the total $2,134,147 adjusted gross income reported (note: there’s got to be a better way to say this, right?).

According to 2012 NCCS figures, there are nine registered mental health nonprofits in Athens-Clarke County, and only six had revenues large enough to file 990 forms. The total yearly revenue reported from these six is $997,074, with assets of $465,072 reported on the 990 forms. 990 forms allow you to see information on nonprofits’ reported revenue, total contributions, and assets, as well as information on total employment too. It’s a really useful form to look at before interviewing some of these organizations.

I’ve found 990 forms for several of the nonprofit organizations I wanted to highlight: Nuci’s Space, North Ga. Cottage, and Friends of Advantage, which is Advantage’s charitable arm. I’ve had some difficulties tracking down Advantage’s 990 forms, which I’ll explain in some detail in an upcoming blog post.

I have interviews planned with Friends of Advantage, and have been in touch with a couple of the organizations to see if I can find out more about their history, mental health services and their charitable giving (where their contributions come from, whether it’s affected services provided, etc).

I really want to interview people who have used these mental services, because as Lisa and Kathleen have suggested, this story would really give voice to the people affected by charitable giving (or lack thereof). I’ve been in contact with these organizations to see if they’d put me contact with some of their patients (and I’ve explained confidentiality waivers and things like that in case patients’ situations need privacy), but I am really open to any more suggestions that you all may have on approaching patients and clients of mental health services.

I guess that’s it for now. I have an upcoming blog post about my adventures in poring over 990 forms, which I’ll share with you all soon! I look forward to any comments or feedback you may have.

Charitable giving and mental health in Athens-Clarke County

My story idea is going to focus on Athens-Clarke County, charitable giving and mental health services in the area.

My interest in mental health piqued when I saw this story from the Athens Banner Herald a few months ago. It’s about how ACC can help struggling nonprofits with donations. It may be interesting to follow up on the kinds donations these nonprofits get, or alternatively, what would happen if these mental health organizations disappeared from low income areas, and what kinds of alternative substance abuse/mental health resources people would have in its place.

Of course, this could lead into a larger story (maybe later on?) about how ACC decides to allocate part of its general fund to nonprofit agencies. It might be interesting to do a profile on what all of them are, how much they get from government/outside donations, and the kinds of services they provide, and how that process works.

Of course, the mental health story may evolve as I dig (as many news stories tend to do). I am open to any suggestions and feedback!

Budget cuts hurt nonprofits, too

Local and state governments are cutting budgets like crazy, and naturally reporters look first at the impact on government services.

But remember that many nonprofits get a large portion of their budget from government funds, usually in the form of contracts to provide those community services.

Losing these government contracts can be a serious blow to the nonprofit itself. Without that funding, the nonprofit may be unable to raise enough money from private sources to pay even its basic administrative costs.

In North Carolina, the Charlotte Post noted that the state cuts also had a secondary impact on nonprofits: It ratcheted up the competition to get donations from private funders.

Vicki Meath, executive director of Just Economics in Asheville, says they are now competing with historically state-funded organizations for the same pool of private grant money. 

Consider how this competition affects the division of charitable giving in your market area. Could state or local budget cuts put some nonprofits out of business?

Full story: The Charlotte Post – State budget cuts impact N.C. nonprofits

Get a lot, give a lot?

A New York Times article Jan. 20 about the much-maligned top 1 percent says that they do earn a lot, but they also give a lot:

“The top 1 percent of earners in a given year receives just under a fifth of the country’s pretax income, about double their share 30 years ago. They pay just over a fourth of all federal taxes, according to the Tax Policy Center. In 2007, they accounted for about 30 percent of philanthropic giving, according to Federal Reserve data. They received 22 percent of their income from capital gains, compared with 2 percent for everybody else.”

It was hard to find where the Federal Reserve publishes such information, but it turns out that the Fed includes charitable giving in its extensive research Read more

How to measure giving in your community

Data from NCCS tables / IRS Master File Dec 2011

Americans are known for their generosity. We give away billions of dollars every year to causes we believe in.

But where does that money go? What causes are served? And how well do our donations meet the needs of our communities?

The National Center for Charitable Statistics offers several ways to gather data about charitable giving, at both national and local levels.

To measure the significance of charitable giving in your community, use NCCS to answer the following questions for your market area.

  1. What percentage of Adjusted Gross Income is given in charitable donations in your county or state?
  2. What is the total revenue per capita for charitable organizations?
  3. How does the revenue per capita compare among different types of charities – e.g., human services and health compared to education, arts and culture, or other categories?
  4. How is the total revenue pie divided among these categories of charities?
  5. What is the number of total public charities per 10,000 people in your county? How does that break down by category?
To take this further, you could also rank the counties of your state in terms of these “generosity” and “direct service” measures. Where does yours stand?

Start with this link to view state and local data – select only a location to get the totals:

In the results of a search by state or county, the second section summarizes “Community Needs” (according to the 2000 Census). Then, under the “Community Resources” section of the Overview results, you will see Read more

Why cover charitable giving?

Charitable giving affects most Americans – either as donors or recipients.

Here are five reasons why you should look more closely at charitable donations:

  1. Philanthropy is a significant sector of the economy – Americans give billions of dollars every year to charities and other nonprofits.
  2. Because charitable donations are deductible from individual income tax, they cost the US government an estimated $47 billion in lost revenue in 2010 alone. Journalists need to look at donations as part of examining the public policy issue.
  3. People donate to causes they care about, so examination of individual giving offers a gauge of public interest – or disinterest – in particular social issues.
  4. Many donations that are deductible as “charitable contributions” do not alleviate poverty or its causes, but may actually further the wealth and income gap.
  5. While government has transferred services for the poor to nonprofits, the private donations they expected didn’t materialize.

In an online conversation between David R. Jones, the president of the Community Service Society of New York, and New York Times readers, Jones said that nonprofits have not been able to serve the poor as well as they needed to – in part because they didn’t get the donations that were expected.

“The trend in major giving tends to go to universities, and large cultural institutions rather than the small or midsize nonprofits, serving the poor, based in poor communities,” Jones said. “It has left many non-profits severely underfunded dealing with growing problems for the poor, particularly after ‘welfare reform.’ ”

One commentator suggested that the patterns in “charitable” giving actually contribute to the wealth and income gap. “As a general rule, nonprofit organizations at the top of the financial heap are less likely to provide the kind of assistance needed by those suffering from economic inequity. The wealthiest charities tend to cater to the wealthiest Americans,” Mark Rosenman wrote in the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

“The top 2.5 percent of organizations that report data to the Internal Revenue Service have over 50 percent of the wealth and bring in over 60 percent of charities’ annual revenues. Colleges, hospitals, and health-care facilities alone constitute that top tier of charities. Compare their finances with those of human-service groups, which account for more than a third of nonprofit organizations but have only about 13 percent of annual revenues and 11 percent of assets.”