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Charities Stepping In Where Government Used To Be

Charities are finding themselves asked to step in to help pay for services and programs that were previously in the government's domain. It seems to be an increasing trend since the economy took a dip several years ago.

Private fundraising for government programs is not necessarily new. State universities have long engaged in fundraising, especially with their alumni and elementary school groups have long held bake sales.

“It used to be the PTA bake sale that raised money for the playground.  Now they might be raising money for textbooks, something that is more of a requirement, whereas before it used to be more of a luxury,” said Mark Hrywna, senior editor of the trade publication The NonProfit Times

He said since the great recession, charity helping out the public sector is happening more often.

“Parks is a classic example of that, whether its government funding going away for parks, or parks getting to the point where people want to take action and they will create a conservancy or some sort of organization that either provides volunteers to make up for that or raises money for specific improvements.”

A new effort in west-central Illinois is a perfect example.   A group of citizens is working on forming a fund raising group to help pay expenses at the Jim Edgar Fish and Wildlife Area in Cass County.  Dustin Fritsche is the county's economic development director. He says wants the group to help out in both a hands-on manner and also raising money for the park, which sits about 25 miles northwest of Springfield.

"So that the site director and his staff are hopefully able to do more things as far as equipment repairs or replacement or expanding some staff hours so that more maintenance can get done,” Fritsche said.

Nationally, a group that raises money for New York's Central Park has been asked to share some of its bounty with other city parks that are struggling financially.

According to Hrywna, charity involvement is helping with projects that used to fall within the government purview is certainly a trend, although a lot of hard data to gauge that is difficult to come by. However, a 2012 study from the Boston based philanthropy consultant Bridgespan analyzed 400 charitable gifts of a $1 million or more.  it showed that 40 percent of the donations were in some way connected to government.  The biggest chunk is going to public universities.     The focus of that was study was finding ways for philanthropy to succeed in a new age of government austerity.

That is a challenge a Springfield area group is taking on as it tries to improve the looks and business on an aging thoroughfare in the capital city.   Jen Dillman is president of Springfield's MaCarthur Boulevard Association. Her group is also forming a 501-C3 to raise money for improvements in that part of the city.

“Money is tight everywhere. There's no question.  I think that everything needs to be public private partnerships.  Everybody needs to have a part in this. All of these small businesses are struggling to keep their doors open and there's not money to do beautification or upgrades to their building, so if we can find funding to help assist them I think that's great," Dillman said.

The partnership talk is an indicator that that they do not expect government funding to come back anytime soon for such projects.

Private support to help out government projects isn't the only area where charity money is going. It is also being used to attempt to improve government performance.  The Bridgespan report also notes  philanthropists are  giving to help U.S. cities to be more innovative and to other projects to fix political and budget processes. The study's author says they are examples of where donors can help government do more with less.   

Bill is a former general manager, economy reporter, Harvest correspondent and Statehouse Bureau Chief for NPR Illinois. He has won several awards including the Associated Press Best Investigative Reporter.
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