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Like the snake devouring its own tail, the picture of philanthropy in the recession that began last year is a circular one of greater need ? by the unemployed, the non-profits who help the unemployed and the grant-makers who help the non-profits. More need, fewer dollars.
Helping Hand, for example, which feeds the hungry and provides emergency clothing and rent assistance from the old St. Bartholomew High School at 16th and Marshall, has seen a 5 to 7 percent rise in clients seeking food, but a 10 percent drop in cash with which to purchase it.
Helping Hand serves people like Virginia Collier, 51, a child care worker before she got laid off eight months ago. Collier is receiving an unemployment check, but with twin 7-year-old boys, she says, “Things are kind of tight.”
On Monday, Collier was in a line of people, each holding a number and seated along a narrow hallway, to get a turkey and Thanksgiving fixings. Every day Since Nov. 1, around 100 families have come to Helping Hand to get food.
“At first, I didn't feel too great about it,” Collier said about coming for free food. “I'm so used to helping others. It threw me for a loop.” Now, however, she says, “I know I really need the help.”
Since July, an average of 1,541 families ? 3,435 individuals ? a month have come to Helping Hand for food. The pantry, usually open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. every day, is having to close down around 11:30 a.m. because its daily food allotment is running out.
So who's helping Helping Hand?
Director Bruce Limozaine says the agency has been “blessed” in these tough times by generous gifts of canned fruits and vegetables, hot dog buns, loaves of bread, rice, potatoes and more, packed up and donated by supporting churches, schools and other organizations, mostly Catholic.
But cash donations ? which this year accounted for 40 percent of Helping Hand's budget for food ? are down, Limozaine said. Rice Depot, which donated more than a thousand turkeys to Helping Hand, came to the rescue. Limozaine couldn't say enough nice things about Rice Depot. “They are absolutely the best.”
Laura Rhea of Rice Depot says finandonations to the non-profit aren't down, but need has risen: Her agency's survey of Arkansas food pantries found a rise in the number of people asking for food of 32 percent over last year.
“The requests for food are incredibly higher … so what that means is that we're struggling right now to have enough food,” said Rhea, who is celebrating her 25th anniversary at Rice Depot.
But like most fund-raisers, Rhea is a glass-half-full type of person. She's optimistic (“taking a deep breath,” she says) her agency and others will find a way to handle the need. But the last six weeks of this year ? when the agency receives a significant percentage of its gifts ? will “determine how we're able to survive next year.”
Rice Depot is feeding 25,000 children with its Food for Kids program in the schools, just one of its projects to feed the hungry. A dollar donation provides a meal of, say, beans, fruit cup and a granola bar for a child. The program sends food in backpacks home with kids whose parents who, for one reason or another, won't go to a food pantry. This year, Rice Depot got a big lift from a celebrity ? Al Roker, whose “Lend A Hand” show visit brought in $600,000 worth of food and equipment to the program. But cash donations are needed.
“We hope people will still be generous” despite their own financial hardships, Rhea said. “We are looking at a very uncertain year next year. People are being cautious. For them to take that leap of faith to write a check and send it in the mail takes a lot of heart. Which makes me kind of tear up … people are still doing that.”
Non-profit arts organizations nationally are taking bigger hits than those that serve social needs. Nan Plummer of the Arkansas Arts Center and Nan Selz of the Museum of Discovery both have said that giving is slow. “Talk to me next year,” is what fund-raisers are hearing, Selz said. Still the MOD has managed to raise more than $1 million toward its $3.5 million match of a Donald W. Reynolds Foundation grant of $9.4 million to renovate the museum.
What's happening at Helping Hand and Rice Depot and any number of non-profits in Arkansas is repeated across the state and nationally. A survey by the national Council on Foundations found that 62 percent of grant-making foundations planned to decrease giving to non-profits in 2009, half by more than 10 percent.
Arkansas's unemployment rate has risen to 7.6 percent from 5 percent last year. It's not a pretty picture.
But some Arkansas grantmakers have been giving until it hurts, and then some. Some of the state's largest foundations ? the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, the Arkansas Community Foundation, the Charles A. Frueauff Foundation, Springdale's Care Foundation ? have met the needs of others by going into their principal, an uncommon step that none want to repeat. Going into the corpus of a fund means lower earnings in future. But, says Sherece Y. West of the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Foundation, “It wasn't the right time to cut back.”
The Rockefeller Foundation lost around 30 percent of its assets in the market dive. Its financial report for 2007 showed total assets at $155.4 million; that dropped to $109.4 million in 2008, even with what CFO Andrea Dobson described as “vanilla” investments.
But “ ‘Moving the Needle' is still our goal,” West said, referring to the foundation's new focus on reducing poverty in Arkansas and lifting the state from its perennially bottom rankings in graduation rates.
To that end, the foundation has in the last two years directed six-figure grants to agencies all over the state that focus on youth and immigrant education and what it terms “financial literacy.”
The value of Arkansas Community Foundation's assets was down 20 percent from the year previous at the end of June. But the small market recovery means things are looking up, director Heather Larkin said.
ACF also invaded its principal in its newer funds, committing a record $8.2 million this year, “when non-profits needed it the most. If we had cut it off it really would have been detrimental to people,” Larkin said.
The Care Foundation in Springdale, which makes grants in Northwest Arkansas targeting schools, health care, immigration and non-profit capacity building, saw a $47 million drop in assets at the end of 2008, from $144 million to $96.9 million. Assets are recovering, but Pearl McElfish, the foundation's chief development officer, said Care doesn't expect a full recovery in the next couple of years and will make grants accordingly.
Non-profits must begin to think creatively and collaboratively to survive, McElfish said. And, said the Frueauff Foundation's David Frueauff, they'll have to cut expenses to the bone. “I think 2010 could be worse than '09.”
Merger could be an option for some: The Fayetteville Community Foundation this year became an affiliate of the Arkansas Community Foundation, saving the Fayetteville agency some $120,000 in operating costs, ACF director Heather Eason said. NARTI (Northwest Arkansas Radiation Therapy Institute) and Hope Inc. merged in September to create the single non-profit, Hope Cancer Resources.
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