Fannie, Freddie Scale Back Gifts to Charity

By Terri Rupar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 18, 2009

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac reduced charitable giving by more than 40 percent from 2006 to 2008 and focused it more sharply on housing-related issues, leaving some local nonprofits without a major source of funding.

The mortgage giants' charitable giving is projected to drop slightly again this year, and the longer-term future of the companies -- and their donations -- is still unclear.

District-based Fannie Mae and McLean-based Freddie Mac were veering toward collapse when they were taken over by the government in September in a bid to stabilize the home-loan market. The companies have long been the two biggest donors to Washington area charities, and the takeover sent worries throughout the local nonprofit community.

Fannie Mae and the Freddie Mac Foundation together gave more than $47 million last year, down from $83.5 million in 2006, the year before Fannie shut down its foundation and moved its giving in-house. The Freddie Mac Foundation is still funded by an endowment. In the first quarter of this year, the two companies gave out $4.5 million.

Fannie Mae said it expects that its giving in 2009 will be about the same as last year, while Freddie estimates that its contributions to foundations will drop to $11.1 million from $15.3 million.

"We remain committed to the community and supporting stable homes and neighborhoods, but it's a reflection of the economy and our status," Freddie spokesman Doug Duvall said.

The future of Fannie and Freddie's charitable efforts will have to be worked out with their government regulator, the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

Fannie Mae spokesman Brian Faith said the mortgage finance giant is committed to continuing to support local charities. The company's charitable mission has been aligned with its corporate mission and focuses primarily on foreclosure prevention, he said.

While nonprofits hope the money keeps flowing, they're reaching out to other corporate donors as well as individuals in case it doesn't.

That task is made more difficult in a challenging economic environment. Fannie and Freddie are "significant supporters and investors in our region," said Tamara Lucas Copeland, president of the Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers.

"What we see is a number of nonprofits that are struggling and trying to determine how they're going to support the important work they're doing," she said. "It's not only because of Fannie and Freddie."

Mary Funke, executive director of N Street Village, said her organization has requested grants from both companies. N Street Village, which helps homeless women, only met 49 percent of its funding goal from Fannie's annual Help the Homeless walkathon last year after the company's difficulties led people to believe that the event wasn't going to happen, she said.

"It was horrific. We had to do extra publicity about it being on, but it was too late," Funke said. The nonprofit has lowered its fundraising goal for this year's walkathon.

The changes at Fannie and Freddie further cloud the future.

"It makes me a little nervous to say the least," said Linda Dunphy, executive director of Doorways, an Arlington-based charity for women and families. Freddie Mac is one of its biggest contributors, giving $300,000 over the past two years. Its name is on one of Doorways' shelters.

Dunphy said her organization is going after stimulus money related to its mission and trying to bring in new partners. Board members routine ask her about the future of Freddie Mac money.

Freddie Mac declined to comment on any specific grants.

The National Center for Children and Families, which does work in Maryland and the District, has seen funding from Freddie dry up for a few programs and expects more cuts to come.

Executive director Sheryl Brissett-Chapman said she was told funding was being cut because of an overall reduction in giving as well as changing priorities as Freddie focuses on its core mission.

She said losing that money could hurt children who have benefited from programs at charities like hers.

"Freddie's been so good at the prevention/early intervention stuff," Brissett-Chapman said. "If you don't do it, these children become at risk for going into the system."

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