When $1,000 is better than $1,000,000


By Sharon Danosky

In a small town in Litchfield County, CT there is a fundraising festival called KentPresents which brings philanthropists together to learn about the local nonprofits and the work they do. They raise funds and give about $125,000 in grants to smaller, local organizations. Many of the grants are around $1,000. A relatively small amount, to be sure. But for many organizations – it can mean the difference between providing vital services or not.

In the world of philanthropy – where we celebrate $410 billion given to charities in 2017 – $1,000 is often not considered a contribution of note. However, as a consulting firm which focuses on small to mid-size organizations, we know the impact of a small grant.

  • It can help purchase fuel for a family on a limited income
  • It can close the deficit on a childcare center
  • It can provide a season of new programs for a local library
  • It can allow an animal shelter to rescue 4 or 5 more animals
  • It can rebuild trails for a land trust whose properties were devastated by a tornado
  • It can purchase a piece of equipment for a local fire station

The headlines that grab our attention are about the large mega-gifts that focus on addressing societal problems: eradicating disease, lifting the standards of education, providing international relief and restoring our planet and its resources. But problems which have been decades or even centuries in the making are not going to be resolved in a matter of months or years. In fact, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative has another 80+ years to go.

Meanwhile in our own backyards there are children who go to school hungry, neighbors who will not have enough fuel to heat their homes, mothers without money to buy diapers, pets who are abandoned on the side of the road and local land trusts trying to protect local resources.

neighborsA friend of mine is the Chair of a small organization in our relatively small town (less than 4,000 people). Its mission is very simple – to provide food and fuel for families in need. There is no staff for this organization, no infrastructure – they are not looking to “scale” in the nonprofit vernacular. They are simply taking care of neighbors. This organization raises about $10,000 a year – enough to provide services for the next year.

Across our country there are organizations like this that depend on the generosity of their community. Without support, there could be serious implications of hunger, homelessness and even personal suffering. Mega-contributions hold great hope for making our world a better place – but local communities must address local problems that are here and now. And local residents must help.

In about a month from now, most nonprofits will begin their year-end fundraising appeals and encourage people to visit their websites on GivingTuesday. They will look to raise as much money as they can before the end of the year. What worries me is whether they will be able to garner attention for their causes in light of the more headline-grabbing causes that come our way. Their issues are not the type that attract mega-gifts. They are boots on the ground, some with Executive Directors and staffs who are grossly under paid, but fiercely dedicated. They are making a difference in our local communities with very little fanfare.

They will never make national headlines, but they will make lives better. They deserve the support of their local communities and I hope they are not lost or forgotten in all the chatter of mega-causes and mega-gifts. Because the bottom line is – we need both.

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