This story has been updated.
Fannie Mae and the Freddie Mac Foundation, the Washington area’s two biggest contributors to local charities, will probably end their philanthropy in the next few years, with troubling consequences for nonprofit groups that focus on education and human services for the poor, children and families, predicts a study to be released Monday.
The two federal housing financing corporations gave nearly $100 million to 500 local organizations in the past four years, but they significantly cut their donations after the housing bust and financial crisis hit in 2008.
Since then, the corporations have been placed in conservatorship and have focused more of their giving on groups that address housing issues. It is unlikely that their giving will return to previous highs, according to a report by George Mason University’s Center for Regional Analysis.
The Freddie Mac Foundation announced last month that it plans to spend its assets down to zero by early 2015. Fannie Mae, which previously announced plans to discontinue the homeless walkathon on the Mall after the coming Nov. 19 event, is also likely to receive a directive from federal officials to “curb if not eliminate its nonprofit funding as well,” the report says.
A Fannie Mae spokeswoman said the company had not announced any changes to their corporate giving, which was focused on housing challenges across the country.
The implications of cuts for regional charities are significant.
“The real impact will be measured in human costs,” the George Mason report says. “Fewer homes for foster care kids, fewer beds for the homeless, and the many other bottom-line human needs that are being served.”
John McClain, who wrote the report with Stephen S. Fuller, said the loss of the corporate money could cause some nonprofit groups to close, “particularly if they were using the Fannie and Freddie money for operating costs, payroll and the like. There may be cases where nonprofits should merge or consolidate to create economies of scale.”
The news comes at a grim time for charities. There has been a disturbing spike in the number of children living in poverty . Unemployment rates, although lower in the District, Northern Virginia and suburban Maryland than the national average, remain high, and the mental toll of long unemployment has reached startling proportions.
Consumer incomes have fallen, and even those who are employed and have health insurance might have to pay more for it. There has been a 35 percent surge in demand at area food banks, and the Capital Area Food Bank was in such dire straits that it planned to charge for fresh produce until a local donor came forward this summer. That donor, Bill Conway, is planning to give away half of his $2 billion fortune to help the poor and long-term jobless.
“If there’s somebody else out there like Mr. Conway, we need him now,” said Chuck Bean, executive director of the Nonprofit Roundtable of Greater Washington, one of eight organizations that commissioned the report. “While we have a major challenge, at the same time we live in one of the wealthiest regions in the country.”
The roundtable consortium, known as the Eight Neighbors, sent a letter to the community urging other corporations to step up to fill the void left by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, not just in dollars but also in a culture that encourages employees to become active.
“The loss of the top two charitable giving organizations in the National Capital Region represents a blow to families and neighbors who depend on nonprofits for assistance for food, temporary housing or job training,” the letter says. “Our region is already balancing in a fragile funding environment and replacing these revenue sources will be difficult, certainly in the short-term.”
For that reason, nonprofit groups are planning a 24-hour online fundraising event Nov. 9, dubbed Give to the Max Day, in which they hope to attract 10,000 new donors and at least $3 million in new funds.
Individuals probably will not make up for the loss of long-standing, targeted and institutional donors such as Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, Bean said. The George Mason report says that the nearest comparable situation is in Detroit, which experienced significant declines in corporate philanthropy over the past decade.
“The Washington region could expect some of what Detroit experienced: less funding for programs in areas like the arts with more focus on critical human needs, and a challenge to achieve a level of regional collaboration to set funding priorities to meet regional objectives rather than funder objectives,” the report says.
Even a self-described die-hard optimist like Bean worries that there will be unmet needs in the coming years.
“This would be hard enough in any situation, but in times of the most sweeping economic downturn in generations, it will be tough,” Bean said. “It is going to hurt, and at some point we’re going to need to stop wringing our hands and figure out what we’re going to do. There are some corporations thriving at this time, and this is really their moment to shine. Maybe there’s an opportunity for a corporation that recently moved its headquarters to the region to step up.”