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A Critical Year for Community-Based Organizations

By Julie L. Rogers
Saturday, November 22, 2008 5:19 PM

Every year around this time, mailboxes fill up with impassioned appeals for money by many worthy causes and organizations. This year, there is an added urgency to the requests: the economic downturn combined with uncertainty about other sources of funding that has hit Washington-area nonprofits hard.

Now, more than ever, community-based organizations need support. People facing foreclosure, lacking health care, needing legal help, or desperately seeking quality after-school care for their children depend on these organizations every day. Cutting back individual donations could mean, quite literally, cutting off critical services to those who need them most.

Nonprofits struggle to raise enough money even in the best of times, having to raise every dollar every year. Many depend on a year-end surge of holiday giving for a large percentage of their budgets.

Many of the region's nonprofits don't have the big fundraising staffs, marketing muscle or name recognition needed to recruit large numbers of individual donors. Instead, they rely on special events, e-mails and appeal letters to donors. Every donor is hard won.

If you are able to give this year and want your giving to make a difference, here are some suggestions:

· Give locally. Throughout the Washington area, in every neighborhood from Arlington to Anacostia and Prince George's to Prince William, nonprofits are working to meet urgent community needs.

· Give to your passion. We all have causes and issues about which we care deeply. Whether you're most concerned about children, feeding people or providing shelter, give to an organization whose mission moves you.

· Support outstanding leaders. A strong executive director greatly increases an organization's chances of getting through the tough times through smart planning, strong partnerships and entrepreneurship. Bet on the organizations with the strongest leadership.

Support organizations with a strong track record. Organizations that can demonstrate their success -- with facts, figures, and stories about the people they serve -- stand the best chance of weathering the current storm and thriving in the future.

The Greater Washington region is home to some of the most innovative, effective and inspiring community-based nonprofits in the country. You can learn about the region's best nonprofits through the Catalogue for Philanthropy (http://www.catalogueforphilanthropy-dc.org). It features more than 70 carefully selected charitable organizations and has helped channel more than $6 million to these organizations from thousands of donors since 2003. You can also visit the Meyer Foundation website at http://www.meyerfoundation.org to learn about outstanding charities.

Julie Rogers is president of the Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation, which awards more than $8 million annually to community-based nonprofits in the greater Washington, DC, area.

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