Desperate times call for creative measures

Every day we're reading and seeing news reports about our country's financial crisis and how it is affecting the average American. What we don't hear about as often is how this crisis is affecting the average non-profit. Lately I've been reading article after article about how the bank closures are affecting the local non-profits that depend on them for large contributions to the annual fundraisers. Non-profits that depend on annual support from corporations and individuals are hearing "we can't do it this year" more often than ever. Scaled back giving of course means scaled back programming, which leads to more people being left out of some very important activities provided by their local charity organization.

In times like this, creative philanthropy is necessary. When I was in Missouri my foundation had an emergency fund for unexpected situations that might lead to an organization having to close its doors. When a tornado demolished a town in southern Missouri, grants were made from the emergency fund to rebuild the health department. When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, we established a fund to assist organizations experiencing an influx of victims transported out of Louisiana.

I just read an article about the Silicon Valley Community Foundation establishing the "Strengthen the Safety Net" fund to assist non profits that provide food and shelter in the San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. These organizations are seeing a dramatic rise in families needing their services due to the economic crisis. As a result the foundation is using this fund to challenge individuals and corporations to donate money; the foundation will match dollar for dollar up to $1 million through the end of this year. Now that's creative philanthropy in a time of crisis.

I certainly understand that some foundations are getting hit by the crisis just like the nonprofits, but there are others whose losses may be minimal and thus can afford to pitch in a little extra. I'd be interested to hear other creative solutions that your foundations (or foundations you've read about) may be instituting to respond to these desperate times.