Grant providers answer call to action
Despite the downturn, some are giving more to nonprofit groups

By Susan Kinzie
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 15, 2009

This year, the Sanford and Doris Slavin Foundation gave out more -- yes, more -- money to nonprofit groups in Montgomery County.

"Because of the economic downturn, and so many people in need, we decided to ramp up our contributions," said Jeffrey Slavin, whose parents started the foundation. "This is the time to step up to the plate, not to cut back, to maintain or increase. In some cases we increased because of the shortfall caused by other funders."

A year after the economic crisis began, when most foundations took a big hit in the stock market, scaled back gifts and cut expenses, some are choosing to give more. The Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers released a "call to action" last week, highlighting the increased need for services and the impact of philanthropy on local projects, and a survey, which found that even as most local grantmakers pull back, nearly a third expect to give more.

A few of the increases are dramatic.

The Community Foundation for the National Capital Region created the Neighbors in Need program last fall to help safety-net programs. More than $3.2 million has been contributed, and the program is seeking $2 million more.

The World Bank Group increased its match of employee donations from 50 percent to two for one. Last year, it gave away $2.5 million, said Viki Betancourt, manager of the community outreach program. This year, the figure jumped to $4.1 million, funding things such as food banks and child-care programs that help needy parents get to work. She said that this year, when so many funders cut back, more collaboration was done to find the gaps and get others to step in to fill them.

The grantmakers report challenged local organizations to form partnerships to combat entrenched problems, including agreements with local governments. It described a coalition that designed a health safety net for the District after a series of financial and policy changes and a hospital closing threatened the system and that pushed for changes.

In 2004, local grantmakers raised millions to meet District officials' challenge and match the city's investment. The model has spread to the Virginia and Maryland suburbs, too.

They wanted to underscore the message that philanthropy has effects beyond dollars, said Tamara Copeland, president of the Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers. Those able to capitalize on timing and momentum, become a strong voice for change, leverage resources and build partnerships were able to have long-term effects, she said, and it's important that philanthropy look to lasting change despite the difficult economy.

About half of the 51 groups that responded to the survey said their grants budgets declined this year, and nearly half expect them to drop again next year.

But more than a quarter reported increases of up to 15 percent, and a handful increased by even more. For next year, nearly a third expect larger grants budgets.

Slavin said his family's foundation gave about $240,000 last year, increased that by about 25 percent this year and expects to give 25 percent more next year. The family increased its personal donations, too. "This is the time to step up to the plate," he said. "This is the rainy day."

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