Here are some of the subject lines in my inbox from the last few days of December, from local, regional and national nonprofits: “Counting down,” “Last day to make your gift,” “DEADLINE tonight,” “Just a few hours left,” “Please give by midnight.” The urgency of these requests is related to end-of-year donations, but you might be led to believe that your opportunities to give to a good cause came to an end at midnight on the last day of the year.
Obviously, giving doesn’t stop at the end of the year. And certainly the needs do not disappear as we flip the calendar page. Indeed, as state and federal funds are cut, the demand for support increases exponentially.
Private and public foundations in Maine provide some of the support to address these needs, but even as fast as giving has grown — more than 300 percent since 2000 — we still cannot replace the funding provided by government. According to the Maine Philanthropy Center, among the top 20 foundations in Maine, roughly two-thirds of the total grant dollars are directed to human services, education and health care.
Yet compare, if you will, the $127 million in grants from all Maine foundations to the $3 billion budget of the state of Maine, of which $900 million is for the Department of Health and Human Services and almost $1.5 billion for essential programs and services in education. You begin to get the picture: for all its ambition to address Maine’s most pressing issues, philanthropy has its limitations.
That said, we look to our donors and partners for inspiration and we hope we can inspire them to greater, more thoughtful giving. Many of them act on their passions, like the anonymous community foundation donor who recently made a major gift to the new Reach Center, which will strengthen science, technology, engineering and mathematics studies in Maine — and help build an educated work force for the future.
And we applaud those charitable residents who can spur new giving. I’m thinking of Stephen and Tabitha King’s recent challenge to raise funds for heating oil for Maine’s low-income families. We know the Kings from their support of libraries and education, but they also know how to build energy — literally — around a pressing need.
The Maine Community Foundation experiences its own flurry of activity in December, as donors hasten to make grants that support Maine nonprofits. We put grants and scholarships in the mail right up to Jan. 1. And this year I’m pleased to report we set a record for 2011, with more than $18 million awarded to nonprofits and students throughout Maine.
But there’s no resting on our charitable laurels: 2012 is a new year and the giving begins again.
Meredith H. Jones is president and CEO of the Maine Community Foundation.