Every year in February, in elementary school classrooms around the country, countless children make Valentine’s cards for kids they really don’t care for, and often for kids they pity. It’s a lovely practice, and every kid feels special for a day.
Hopefully, this tradition helps the kids build up reserves of self-confidence, because later in life, they’ll probably have to deal with crushing heartbreak on Valentine’s Day and beyond. And hopefully, this practice instills the virtue of charity, and the importance of bringing joy to others at vulnerable times in their lives.
This month, in the shadow of Valentine’s Day, I want to write about another way we give.
Birmingham is notorious for its generosity. Our philanthropic community is stout. We boast the largest Rotary Club, Rotaract Club, and Kiwanis Club in the world, and every event in town is seemingly a benefit for a local charity. On our social media feeds, we’re bombarded with requests to donate to fundraising campaigns, and if we choose not to give, we’re riddled with guilt, shame, and the scorn of our peers.
Birmingham is an interesting place. Within the city limits of Birmingham proper, we have significant poverty. In some of the adjacent suburbs, we have extraordinary wealth. Those who are fortunate enough to fall into the latter category know it’s right to help those in need. And many of those who grew up in and around poverty want to do everything they can to alleviate that dark beast.
People who want to seriously address social issues in Birmingham often decide to start non-profit organizations, with nothing but the most sincere intentions of helping. Lord knows that with as many issues as we have, we need all the help we can get. But what often ends up happening reveals a problem that I hope we can overcome.
When everyone is passionately working to start an organization, they can get tunnel vision and don’t see the larger landscape of resources and programs already available. I recently spoke with Kimberly Richardson of Kimberly Richards Consulting. Many consider hers to be the premiere grants consulting firm in Alabama. She’s the first and currently only grant consultant in Alabama to possess the nationally recognized Grant Professionals Certification. Since 2007, she’s helped secure over $70 million in grants for non-profits, government agencies and faith-based organizations in Alabama, across the U.S. and internationally. Birmingham is lucky to have her, and I consider her perspective invaluable.
What became clear after speaking with her is that we as a city, and as a metro area, need to do a much better job of communicating with one other about what’s currently out there. I’ve personally introduced numerous non-profit organizations that do very similar work in this city to each other. Now, there’s nothing wrong with trying to do things your own way, but imagine what would happen if we had a way of easily accessing information about all the organizations that currently exist in a particular sector.
We have a limited pool of individuals and corporations with the capacity to give large amounts of money to causes. Because of their generosity, they’re constantly bombarded with requests for funding. How can we better work together to fulfill our missions, and at the same time, not deplete our resources?
Let’s say we have five organizations founded to mentor youth in Birmingham, none of whom know about each other. All five of these organizations may need funding for transportation, for instance. Surely it would be more cost-effective for those organizations to coordinate their transportation needs and field trips. How much money is being spent on such duplicated efforts throughout the metropolitan area? I’d imagine it’s quite a lot.
After speaking with Richards, it has also become apparent that the amount of funding a consortium of organizations applying for a larger grant together could receive (when they’re thinking big) is much greater than the amount of money each individual organization can receive separately (when they’re thinking small). Maybe it’s because I’m from the Soviet Union, and I have a genetic predisposition for centralizing efforts, but I firmly believe that we can be a model community for coordination. This city can develop ways of sharing information and data among organizations. With such transparency, I believe that our business community would be better able to recognize the needs and gaps available for funding, and not spend money on duplication. I hope that we can work toward more streamlined systems of giving, and of alleviating the social issues that exist in Birmingham, generation after generation.
Thank you for giving. Thank you for your generosity and kindness. This month, let’s toast to giving, in better and more effective ways!