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The Business of Giving: Desperate Times, Desperate Measures


Giving even more essential during hard times.


These days, everyone's terrifying themselves by reading reports about the economy - and they're increasingly apprehensive about their financial futures. Given lower consumer spending, increasing interest rates and decreasing credit limits (which may be a silver lining), we're moving into uncharted territory.

As Minyans know all too well, stock prices and portfolio values are falling. Ford's (F) cutting its white-collar workforce to reduce salary costs by 15%, and General Motors (GM) is expected to announce similar layoffs soon. Tax revenues are declining, consumer confidence is down and commodity prices are creeping higher and higher as the dollar becomes weaker and weaker.

This isn't just a passing shower, folks. It may well be a perfect storm. It has the ability to drag down both ends of society: Big business as well as the most vulnerable - the elderly, the sick, children and the poor. When the economy stalls, those who can afford it least are the ones hurt most.

Here's why: Social programs rely on your support. When people and corporations make less money, they pay less in taxes. The geometric and generational impact of this is huge.

The sick get sicker and require costlier care. Hospitals spend more on charity care - which increases the deficit, since these are subsidized by government programs. Children go to bed hungry, which makes it difficult for them to focus on the schoolwork that's their ticket out of poverty. Crime increases in local communities, so business investors pull out.

To repeat: When the economy stalls, those that can afford it least are the ones hurt most - unless we maintain our support through the rough times.

Programs that save kids from being hurt by the economic downturn are made possible by federal and private funding. We already know that tax dollars for social services will be decreasing. But will corporate giving shrink as well? I sincerely hope not. In fact, the only way to avoid this perfect storm is for individuals and corporations to increase their giving at this volatile time.

Let me give you an example from my organization, the Children's Aid Society. We have a program that targets teens at risk of dropping out of high school. With just $5,000, we create a 10-month working stipend program. We teach them how to get and keep a job. He or she learns the value of hard work and experiences the satisfaction of a job well done. Keep that kid in school, turn him or her into a wage-earning member of society, and you just helped save millions of dollars in taxpayer money.

How, you ask? Jails are revolving doors, filled with repeat offenders. Keeping kids from entering that system saves the millions of dollars it costs to incarcerate them over their lifetimes. And that teen-aged girl who believed that motherhood, not an education, was her only ticket to independence? Taxpayers will spend thousands paying for the health care she'll never be able to obtain from a private employer, because she never gained the skills to get a job with benefits. Your donations help children build better futures and avoid those dead-end paths, instead becoming tax-paying wage-earners who help grow our economy.

Your action plan: Advocate at any and all levels to maintain social services in a downturn, whether it be in your local community, your corporate foundation department or through your own giving.

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