Make 2011 the Year of Giving
As the newly crowned "wealthiest region in the country," we begin the new year with a special responsibility -- individually and collectively -- to respond to the immediate needs of our most vulnerable neighbors.
While our region has been getting wealthier, a segment of the population has been moving in the opposite direction. Today, inequities that existed before the recession are even greater. Three out of 10 children in the nation's capital are living in poverty, 148,000 mortgages are in default, unemployment is approaching 30 percent in the District's Ward 8 and deep government cuts to social and human services are just around the corner. In discussing the latest efforts to reduce the federal deficit, the president and chief executive of the Greater Washington Board of Trade, James C. Dinegar, recently told a gathering of nonprofit leaders: "The Washington region will feel the reductions first and feel them the hardest."
Already, the recession had created hardship for individuals and families from Prince George's to Prince William and every jurisdiction in between. Claudia Raskin, who runs Community Support Systems in rural Prince George's County, describes people in her corner of the region living in travel trailers in the woods -- with no electricity, no plumbing and no water. Fairfax County may be among the wealthiest counties in the country, yet the only option for some low or no-income residents is to live in their cars, according to FACETS Executive Director Amanda Andere.
While ours is a region of great need, we are also a community of givers. In my work as a tax and financial adviser to individuals, private foundations and businesses, I find that many clients are open to extending their charitable giving to safety net organizations, but oftentimes need some guidance about how and where to give.
I frequently direct them to the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region. By launching the Neighbors in Need Fund to help those impacted by the Great Recession, the Community Foundation rallied donors to support more than 100 safety net organizations, providing not only direct services but also advocacy efforts to make public systems work better. The impact is measurable: Neighbors in Need has distributed $3.6 million and touched more than 100,000 residents of our region so far, providing food, shelter, clothing, utility and rental assistance, mental health services, employment training and foreclosure counseling.
Our region's business leaders have been front and center in the Neighbors in Need response: from a founding grant of $150,000 from the World Bank to a recent donation from the Wachovia-Wells Fargo Foundation to launch a focused effort in Prince George's County. While some prefer to donate anonymously -- such as a local businessman who made two $100,000 matching grants to the Neighbors in Need Fund in Montgomery County -- others have built charitable giving into their company's core mission. Motivated by a commitment to give back in an organized, collective fashion, the law partners at Willkie Farr & Gallagher have found that investing in the community through charitable contributions and participation in charity events is not only the right thing to do, it also helps attract and retain employees and brings the staff together around a common purpose.
I ask my colleagues in the business community to join me in making 2011 "The Year of Giving" by making an immediate and sustained investment in our region's safety net, either through the Neighbors in Need Fund or by direct support of your favorite human services organization.
David M. Bradt Jr. is office managing director of the Washington office of WTAS LLC and chairman of the board of trustees of the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region.