We all count on the fact that people seem to come through for those in need and other non-profit causes, even in hard economic times. That certainly was the story in Northern Michigan last year as our non-profit community finished out 2008 in pretty good shape even though the stock market had lost 30 percent of its value and unemployment was on the rise.
Now, a year later, it appears as if the lingering challenges of this economy may indeed impact charitable giving for 2009. Those who had little but gave anyway find themselves needing that money to help their own families through, and those with significant resources weigh stock markets and the unsteadiness of the recovery as they poise their pens over checkbooks.
So what do we do? It isn’t as if the need is less. Clearly it is greater, particularly in the arena of providing
basic services to people in need. Last summer, one Traverse City charity had to put out an emergency call for donations to their food bank—the cupboards were empty due to an increased demand. The community responded. It was one of those clear, clarion cries that somehow breaks through the news and noise of busy
lives to stand as one simple request: Drop off food. It didn’t require a review of the family budget. It was simple.
The truth is, our nonprofits are working every day to keep their message simple: Almost to a person I am hearing, “Don’t feel you have to give a lot, just give something.” I spoke to one staffer responsible for development for a regional conservancy, and she said she is encouraging her members who may have given larger amounts in the past but are holding off this year to give even $30 and remain a donor. That donation
keeps the member as part of the organization and allows them to keep hearing about the successes achieved
every week even through these times. It allows the membership roles to stay strong for our non-profits, something foundations often look at when making grants.
Non-profits are organizing themselves to prepare for whatever is to come. An up-tick? An extended downturn? Leaders in philanthropy are suggesting that non-profits manage costs as aggressively as possible during this time and create contingency plans based on having to cut budgets by 10 percent, 20 percent or more.
And, what about the rest of us? As people who care about our community—its people in need, its environment,
its educational resources, etc.—we have to figure out how to make a difference as individuals, families and companies.
Now is the time to be asking ourselves, what do we have to give? Do we have $30? Do we have time to stuff envelopes or help build a bridge or spend an hour tutoring a child? Do we have cans in our pantry we wouldn’t even miss if we loaded them up and dropped them at a food pantry? Do we have office supplies we have never
used, shoes our children have outgrown or equipment sitting idle that could make a non-profit that much more successful at what they do?
As retirees, have we honed skills in our careers that could prove helpful to a non-profit even for a few hours a month? As parents, are we modeling a life of volunteerism and philanthropy for our children? Are we getting
them involved in decisions about where and how much to donate, helping them understand that while it may mean a small cutback in the household, it can be a life changing act in the life of someone in need? Have they ever unloaded food at a pantry or pulled invasive species from the banks of a river just because it’s important to help?
It can be simple. But sometimes we just need to know how to start. That’s why we publish the MyNorth Guide to Giving for Northern Michigan, both in print and as an easy-to-use directory online. It’s our effort to make all of this a little easier, for the non-profit community and for those who want to pitch in. This guide comes during the time of year when foregoing even one present and donating that money can make such a difference in our community. It is also a guide that is meant to be referred to often throughout the year when there is a chance to donate time or money. The non-profits are given a chance to tell their story, to share with you directly just what it is they need and the contact information is right there so you can easily act.
Sometimes we need it all to be a little “less big.” It is our fervent hope that the MyNorth Guide to Giving plays a role in making the year ahead more successful for our region’s non-profits, more rewarding for those of you who donate time and money and more helpful to people in need, to the environment, to our hospitals and our schools. Together we can make it happen. And together we can give back to a region that has given so much to each of us. It really is that simple.