Urban Wire Are DC’s Metro Area Nonprofits a Match for Hard Times and Unrealistic Expectations?
Erwin de Leon
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The Census Bureau’s latest poverty numbers paint a dismal portrait of the lives of millions of Americans. Over 47 million of us are poor. That includes families of four subsisting on $22,314 a year and individuals struggling to survive on $30 a day on average for food, shelter, transportation, and other basics.

In Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, the average poverty rate from 2009-2010 is 13.3 percent, slightly below the national rate partly because average poverty rates in Maryland (10.2) and Virginia (10.7) are lower. The District of Columbia’s average poverty rate is far higher -- 18.9 percent.

Will hard times for poor Americans change anytime soon? Probably not with the unemployment rate hovering at 9.1 percent and projected to remain well above 8 percent in the next couple of years.

The safety net most of us count on also continues to unravel. Federal, state, and local budgets are still shrinking, which leads to more service cuts that disproportionately impact the most vulnerable, including the estimated 1.5 million poor people residing in DC, Maryland, and Virginia.

The District of Columbia has been able to address a projected shortfall in FY2012 with spending reductions, revenue increases, and government staff reductions but it now has less funding for most of its services. Maryland foresees a $1.4 billion deficit in FY2012 while Virginia anticipates a $2 billion gap in FY2012.

Needy families and individuals are turning to nonprofits more than ever, and some believe that this is how it should be. The onus of helping struggling citizens ought, they say, to be on charities and not governments.

But do nonprofits have the wherewithal to save the day? Some 1,358 registered nonprofits in DC, Maryland, and Virginia provide basic services to those living in poverty. Among them are organizations that provide multiple services and agencies that meet more particular needs through, say, food banks and pantries, employment counselors, and community health clinics.

Seventy-seven percent of these nonprofits are general human service providers whose combined revenue totals about $1 billion. Ten percent run employment programs with 24 percent of the total revenue and nine percent offer health services with 20 percent of total revenue. Only 48 of registered nonprofits (or 4 percent of the total) provide food.

Support Nonprofits in D.C, Maryland and Virginia

One in four nonprofits are located in the District, home to only 7 percent of the metro area’s poor. Maryland, which has 38 percent of the area’s poor, houses 35 percent of support nonprofits but has only 24 percent of the total revenue. Virginia, which has 55 percent of the region’s poor, claims 40 percent of the charities but 51 percent of total revenue.

Distribution of Nonprofits in D.C., Maryland and Virginia

The metro area’s nonprofits will be saddled with increased demand from poor families and individuals along with many others in temporary straits and not counted among those living in poverty.  Meanwhile, they can expect tighter budgets as revenue from government contracts and grants shrink. Clearly, major fundraising challenges lie ahead.

The 2010 Nonprofit Fundraising Survey reports that only about four in ten charities (43 percent) said philanthropic contributions in 2010 topped their 2009 level. Almost a quarter (24 percent) saw them plateau while a third (33 percent) experienced declines.

The survey packed other sobering news on the basic services front. Human service nonprofits registered had the fewest gains in 2010, with just 38 percent enjoying any funding increases. Nearly as many (36 percent) reported drops, and the rest (26 percent) a flat line.  And small nonprofits lost more ground than larger groups.

As millions of Americans struggle amid sustained unemployment and other economic woes, nonprofits that are increasingly under financial pressure themselves are expected to keep the safety net together. Governments need to step up -- if not through more funding, through policies that make it easier for charities  to provide for citizens in need. Large foundations and the ultra- wealthy can also afford to be a bit more generous considering what’s at stake.

Research Areas Nonprofits and philanthropy
Tags Poverty
Policy Centers Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy
Cities Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV