Tag Archive for steps

Mending the gap: How to localize the national problem

Photo by Lisa Schnellinger

When you look at the Data Profile for your community, what jumps out at you? What parts of it connect with what you see on local streets every day? How does this community profile jibe with the way political leaders describe the community?

Whether it’s the number of people without health insurance, the education levels, or differences in types of housing, a description of your community will suggest where the obvious disparities are between rich and poor. From there, you can look at the Gini Index and income-shares statistics through the lens of daily life for people on either side of the wealth and income gap. And you can bring those examples to political candidates, and ask how they view the gap – as a problem, or as an opportunity?

Here are the steps you might follow to develop those statistics into stories:

Step 1.

Gather the numbers. Choose a socioeconomic characteristic related to your beat or a timely interest, or review the Data Profile to look for the biggest gaps in your community. Compare those with state and national statistics.

Find the numbers for the Gini Index and the income shares in your community. How do these relate to the characteristic? For example, how does the percentage of uninsured compare to the percentage of people in the lowest quintile?

Step 2.

Look for a way to illustrate the gap in daily life. Often this might be in comparing services offered in private facilities to services available through government or nonprofit agencies.

For example – if you’re interested in health care, compare a public hospital or a nonprofit hospital that does indigent care with a private hospital. What is the difference in the level of care?

Or compare what is available for home weatherization

Read more

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?

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!

Homeless services in Athens-Clarke County (and Gainesville/Hall County)

In looking at nonprofits in Athens-Clarke County, it’s interesting to note the difference in revenues for foundations and organizations connected to the University of Georgia versus the low-income groups I’m trying to investigate in the city. Some of the sororities and fraternities even beat out important ACC services in the top 50. That could be a fun numbers story in itself.

I decided to delve into homelessness (and JoAnn into mental health) as we looked at how low-income people are helped in the county. At first glance, it looks like there are several groups that help address the housing problem in Athens, but when I dug into it further, I saw that these groups are interconnected and run by the same people. So in Athens, maybe the story is about how different aspects of homelessness are addressed — the Athens Homeless Shelter tackles the housing, Athens PBJs (created by a UGA student who graduated my year, actually) looks at the issue of food and friendship for the homeless, and two or three groups focus on the rehab aspect of substance abuse. Do these organizations work together, or is there a gap? (From past interviews with the Athens PBJ founder, there’s a gap, of course) Does the group that addresses housing in particular have a good handle on the situation, or do we actually need additional aid with homeless shelters in Athens? What will the Athens Resource Center for the Homeless (created in 2011) do to help the Athens area, and is the group pushing it forward successfully?

If these questions seem tenuous or broad, I thought about a particular story I was covering in Gainesville/Hall County when I left the newspaper there. There are actually several groups trying to help with the homeless housing issue in Gainesville that address it in very different ways, and one group is seeking to pull them together. In addition, a group of churches are trying to band together to create a homeless housing network (Interfaith Hospitality Network) that has been formed successfully in counties such as Gwinnett. I still have contacts with these groups, so it could make for an interesting look into how these different organizations are trying to provide shelter, especially because I know they probably haven’t been able to pull together in consensus yet. The fact that homelessness is so high in Gainesville is also surprising — something that seems a bit more ignored or shoved under the rug up there than here in Athens.

I could do both stories. Or I could combine them and look at how nonprofits in neighboring counties are addressing homelessness in rather different ways. I welcome feedback!

Mind the Gap: Income disparity in Greene County and Beyond

For my story topic on wealth and income shares, I plan to focus on the amalgam that is Greene County, Georgia. Greene County is home to the Ritz-Carlton Lodge at Reynolds Plantation in Greensboro. The former president George W. Bush visited the lodge in 2003, but not much is said about the former president visiting those on the other side of the wealth divide in a local news article covering the event. Fifty years ago last month marked the anniversary of Michael Harrington’s book, The Other America: Poverty in the United States, which apparently spurred John F. Kennedy and his advisors to action to combat the problem.

According to census data released in September 2011, America’s national poverty rate rose one full percentage point to 15 percent in 2010, or about 46 million people. The U.S. government defines the poverty line at an annual income of $22,314 for a family of four.

Nowhere in Georgia is the gap of wealth more apparent than in Greene County, according to a measurement system called the Gini Index. News in Numbers has a post dedicated to exploring this data. Greene County proved to be the county with the most disparity in income shares according to data collected during a five-year period.

Due to my interest in healthcare and health policy, I plan to use not only income measures, but also the number of those living without insurance in Greene County to portray what such a large gap in income means for America.

My story proposes to answer the following questions: Read more

Stimulus money’s flow to Pickens County

I am covering Economic Development and Stimulus. For my story I am going to do one large piece that covers three different areas of stimulus money in Pickens. I would like to first do a general section on how the stimulus money was filtered through Pickens County and compare those figures to how it was filtered through the neighboring counties of Gilmer and Dawson (who both have similar demographics) and Cherokee to the south, which is much larger and more diverse. Then I will track how that money trickled into the education system in Pickens, since education is one of the largest recipients of stimulus money. I will also look at the small business loans that were granted and attempt to find out how many, if any, jobs were created or retained because of stimulus money.

How to measure the gap in your area


Photo by Al Clayton

Measuring the gap between the richest and poorest in your community is surprisingly easy, thanks to the Census Bureau’s American FactFinder.

Find the answers to these questions to see how this issue looks in your community:

+How does your community compare to the state and nation in its overall inequality of income?

+What percentage of the total income was earned by the top 20 percent? The top 5 percent?

+What percentage of your community is under the official poverty line? What percentage have incomes of more than $100,000?

For all three of the statistical measures described here, start from the American Fact Finder section of the US Census Bureau website: http://factfinder2.census.gov/faces/nav/jsf/pages/index.xhtml

You don’t need to wait for a census once in a decade to get good, local data. All of the measures are based on the American Community Survey, or ACS. This is detailed information collected from a national survey every year, since 2006. Read more

How well do nonprofits assist the poor?

In an online conversation with David R. Jones, the president of the Community Service Society of New York, a reader asked bluntly:

There are so many nonprofits dedicated to fighting poverty that waste both private and taxpayer dollars and never lead to any real results. How can nonprofits be held accountable for their lack of results?

Jones defended nonprofits by saying, “Part of the problem is that over the past two decades there has been a massive transfer of programming for the poor from the government to non-profits. The assumption was that nonprofits could do the job better and cheaper. The record is decidedly mixed.

“Nonprofits have been starved of adequate resources, denied cost of living increases and lack infrastructure. Moreover, the assumption that tax deductible dollars from foundations and individuals would provide significant support of charities serving the poor, hasn’t materialized.”

[NOTE: We’ll look more at Jones’ assertion about charitable donations in the “Giving” section of this project.]

Jones said that the solution would be to give “more resources to allow nonprofits to provide adequate pay and training to its workers — along with heightened accountability and metrics to insure that quality services are being provided.”

The economic downturn has hurt nonprofits. Results of the 2012 survey by the Nonprofit Finance Fund showed that demand is up year after year, but only about half of the organizations were breaking even.

With little data to measure whether the services are worthwhile, budget cuts have hit both effective and ineffective programs. Reporting can show whether “quality services are being provided” – and by whom.

What follows are general steps to try and answer the question, “How do nonprofits in my area serve the poor?”

You will probably want to choose a particular problem in the community – homelessness, low literacy, health services, nutrition – and follow these steps with that problem as your focus. Read more

Pickens County and the stimulus


Let’s look at the stimulus information about Pickens County, Georgia, and see how we might use it to cover the problems of unemployed people and low-income families.

The summary on ProPublica conveniently compares Pickens to the state and the nation. It also allows us to drill down to get details about the money in Pickens.

From these few pages, a half-dozen story ideas emerge. We can see immediately that:

-Although unemployment in Pickens County was consistently higher than the national average, and higher than the state average in 2008 and 2009, the per-capita funding to the county was only about half the national average, and 40 percent less than the state’s average.

Why? Was it due to a flawed process of distribution, or was it a question of political clout?

-Of the $24 million spent in Pickens County, about one-quarter went to Small Business Administration loans.

Who were these businesses? How many jobs were saved or created as a result of the loans? Did any of the businesses fail in spite of the loan?

-Another $5.5 million went to a weatherization program, but not all of this money was spent in Pickens County. It went to a nonprofit agency, North Georgia Community Action, which is based in Pickens but serves 10 North Georgia counties.

Read more

Stimulus project on ProPublica

ProPublica offers a quick summary and comparison

ProPublica, a nonprofit reporting organization, created a special project to track the stimulus money. The result is a very user-friendly place to do research and comparisons.

[To understand more about the ProPublica methodology in assembling and cleaning the data, there is an explainer about that here.]

Start with the ProPublica recovery page: http://projects.propublica.org/recovery/

The information is framed in the way that a reporter or citizen might think about it: basic questions of “How much did we get?” and “Did we get a fair share?”

You can define “we” down to the level of a county.

The very first page is a table that allows you to immediately see how much per capita your state received. Read more