Friday, March 27, 2009

How Much Stays Local?

Released last month, a study from the Foundation Center revealed that one-third of the grant dollars awarded by Washington-area foundations in 2006 went to locally-focused organizations. The remaining two-thirds went to Washington organizations with a national or international focus or to organizations outside of Washington.

The study, "Giving By Foundations in the National Capital Region: How Much Stays Local?" is the "Foundation Center’s first-ever examination of locally-focused giving within a specific metropolitan area." As a report of giving in 2006, the report presents an interesting snapshot of the local funder community before the recession and raises an important question for the DC philanthropic sector: how much stays local?

As DC and its nonprofits look out for the nation, who's looking out for DC? Fannie and Freddie, for instance, were the second- and eighth-largest foundations, respectively, in the area in 2006, and they were taken over by the government in September of last year, leaving charities to wonder who would fill the vacuum.

A June 2007 report from the Foundation Center "Key Facts on Washington, DC Area Foundations," noted that "foundations in the area targeted a larger share of their funding than U.S. foundations overall for the economically disadvantaged" and that "foundations in the area also gave more for the benefit of ethnic or racial minorities." The report attributed this to "regional demographics." But, when this new study shows that fully two-thirds of DC funders' attention is focused elsewhere, that critical support for economically disadvantaged and minority communities goes with it at a time when it's most needed.

Perhaps, the urgency of the times will encourage new donors to step up or urge current funders to look locally. Perhaps, the Foundation Center report on DC for 2009 will paint a different picture, but the tension between local ties and national focus will always be with those living in and near the nation's capital.

This morning's Washington Post chronicles the latest instance of these conflicting impulses:
A D.C. fund created to improve the city's neglected neighborhoods is being divided among several agencies and funneled to big-budget nonprofits such as the Kennedy Center in Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's new proposed spending plan.
While it's comforting to think that our nonprofits can be both local and national, that funders can fulfill their missions elsewhere and be engaged local citizens, the economy will push many to make difficult choices. A recent Washington Grantmakers survey captured the economic catch-22: 86 percent of respondents reported a decrease in assets in 2008, and four out of five grantmakers reported receiving more grant requests in 2008 than 2007. Appealing to funders already caught between increasing needs and declining financial resources, will local nonprofits survive? How much will stay local - and how much of what's local will stay?

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