Opinion: Public charities need money, and we need to give it

Bob Schwartz

In the wake of COVID-19, local public charities servicing basic needs are experiencing significant financial difficulties as they struggle to remain open. The perfect storm of high demand for services, inability to stage fundraisers and reduced availability of grant money has wreaked havoc on budgets.

Along with the heightened sense of social responsibility emerging from the George Floyd tragedy, it is now more important than ever that private foundations, and others with the economic ability to help, continue the ripple that becomes the swelling tide of hope and change. Those with the means must welcome the opportunity to be part of the solution. 

It is time that we not only put our money where our mouth is, but put our creative hat on as well, Schwartz writes.

In a 2018 survey from the Nonprofit Finance Fund, a whopping 86% of nonprofits said demand for services is rising, and 65% of nonprofits  in low-income areas were unable to meet this demand. This was before a pandemic ravaged low-income areas and the African American community, and social injustice and racial inequality moved to the front of our collective conscience and implored the country to act. The current need has never been greater.

The main purpose of private foundations is to provide grants to public charities so the latter can continue their programs that are for the good of society. Basic human needs of shelter, food, health care, education etc. are all noble goals, but the IRS only requires a private foundation to annually distribute five percent of their net investment assets by way of grants or administrative expenses, a woefully small percentage in light of current problems related to poverty and social inequality.

Back in early 2008, then-Sen. Barack Obama said, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person, or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

Those words resonated with me and my wife at that time as we were just launching in the Detroit area our unique and grassroots philanthropy via our private foundation of Here to Help. The Great Recession was strangling the life from our city as the unemployment rate eventually skyrocketed to near 30%; empty factories littered the landscape; and abandoned homes and buildings were abundant.

At that time, we were equal parts enthusiastic and overwhelmed as we tried to be that change Obama was encouraging in his speech. We needed to act as we had the ability, desire and dedication to help.

Fast forward to the present and we have assisted more than 9,000 remarkable and determined individuals who were facing an emergency and were at a tipping point with nowhere else to turn for help. The impact of Here to Help is direct and powerful.

But, here’s the dirty little secret: There are many of us in white America that understand our advantages and fully understand the need for social programs addressing longstanding inequities. Many are willing to talk a good game but are reluctant to play while standing on the sidelines, recognizing the game is in disarray yet feel someone else will fix it.

It is time that we not only put our money where our mouth is, but put our creative hat on as well. We need to create more resources of last resort like Here to Help that fill the vacuum unsupported by state or federal programs or public charities.

We must be willing to work with public charities on maintaining or creating programs addressing racial injustice, health care access, removing barriers such as transportation to assist with obtaining and maintaining employment etc. We must be willing to grant more funds to these programs, to donate more to effectuate change.

We can give more. We can help more. We can listen more and act accordingly. As President Franklin Roosevelt said, “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little."

We need to act to help those without. Don’t wait on the world to change. It won’t without our collective and immediate action. We cannot rewrite history, but we can write our future.

Those who have too little need your help. It is time to get to work. Give, act, change. Do something. Now.

Bob Schwartz is co-founder and CEO of the Here to Help Foundation, which provides individuals with direct financial aid for emergency situations.