Charitable Giving in Need

Who doesn’t love to give and receive gifts? Gifts express appreciation for the people in our lives, and no matter what’s inside the box or how pretty the wrappings, we know that sentiment is the heart of every gift exchanged.

Why then have we allowed holiday gifting to become so complicated and stressful? Lists get longer every year. Does Grandma really want another nightgown? How many golf umbrellas does Uncle Tim already own? Does my child’s teacher even drink coffee? Is my niece too old for dolls? Will my sister wear this scarf? Maybe it’s time to rethink how we approach our giftgiving. What if we all put charities at the top of our gift list?

The National Retail Federation predicts that nationwide, November, and December 2019, holiday retail sales will climb to an astounding $730 billion. No doubt, Loudoun residents will help achieve those numbers.

Loudoun County: Tops in Income, Below Average in Charitable Giving

Economic prosperity grows in Loudoun County faster than the crops that once covered its rolling acres. Loudoun residents enjoy the highest median income in the nation (just under $140,000), according to a September 2019 update to the United States Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

Loudoun County Department of Economic Development reports that besides being tops in household income, Loudoun has one of the most educated workforces in the country and one of the lowest unemployment rates in the region. You might be tempted to think our streets are lined in gold.

There is one list where Loudoun is not tops but is, in fact, shamefully below those of national, state, and neighboring county averages: household charitable giving.

Why is it that residents of wealthy Loudoun on average give only 1.9% of discretionary income to charity as compared to the national average of 3% or Virginia household average of 2.9%? Less affluent neighboring counties exceed Loudoun as well.

Is it a case of those with the most sharing the least? More likely, it’s a case of those in need not being readily visible to those who are in a position to give, according to Amy E. Owen, President, and CEO of the Community Foundation for Loudoun and Northern Fauquier Counties. “The needs, crises, and problems are simply not visible to the average Loudoun resident,” said Owens, adding that the nonprofits dedicated to providing services are not highly visible or adequately funded and staffed, either.

The Struggles are Hidden in Plain Sight

Existing as shadows in our showcase county are individuals who struggle to meet their most basic needs. Four in every 100 Loudoun households (about 13,600 people) live at or below the federal poverty level (which in Loudoun is $28,280 for a family of four).

“If Loudoun residents increased their annual giving from 1.9% to 2.6% like neighboring Fairfax County, Loudoun charities would have $70 million more per year to help those in need,” said Owen. Moving that needle up requires seeing and meeting those in need and understanding why they struggle.

Armed with the belief that Loudoun County residents and businesses have both the means and the desire to share with those in need, the Community Foundation for Loudoun and Northern Fauquier County launched a campaign called Faces of Loudoun in 2017 to put a spotlight on real-life Loudoun residents who struggle to survive in the midst of affluence. Their mission: “to help our community see the need, meet and greet the need, and be inspired to end the need.”

FacesofLoudoun.org (also known as EndtheNeed.org) is a multimedia, multi-channel campaign aimed at raising the awareness of hardship and poverty in Loudoun County while also celebrating the efforts of volunteers and leaders. Social media plays a crucial role in the effective campaign, where real-life residents courageously share their starkly honest stories in hopes of awaking community awareness of our less fortunate neighbors.

The stories, which are quickly shared across Facebook, Twitter, and other social platforms, describe the unexpected life events that have the power to shift financial foundations from stable to desperate, sometimes overnight: illness, cancer, domestic abuse, single parenthood, losing a job, alcohol and substance addiction, chronic pain, mental illness, language barriers, suicide, depression. The campaign also highlights Loudoun’s volunteers and leaders and why they feel called to serve their neighbors.

A Snapshot of Loudoun: The Numbers Might Surprise You

Want to learn more about your Loudoun neighbors? The Community Foundation has published a report, Profiles of Loudoun: The Numbers Behind the Faces of Loudoun, a data-packed analysis of Loudoun’s economy, residents, social needs, and human services. Visit communityfoundationlf.org for a summary or full reports, compiled from local, state, and government sources.

In Loudoun County:
17.1% of adults identify drinking excessively, with one of the highest numbers of binge drinkers in the Commonwealth.

8.5 deaths per 100,000 are due to drug overdose.

2.1 deaths per 100,000 are due to prescription opioid overdose.

9.6 deaths are from suicide per 100,000 residents.

Of Loudoun’s homeless: 26% of single adults are employed, and 47% of homeless families have at least one employed adult.

One of the fastest-growing homeless populations in Loudoun County is adults age 62+.

Loudoun has 123 emergency shelter beds to accommodate up to 35 single adults and up to 49 families with children, with an additional 23 beds in a permanent supportive housing program to accommodate up to 4 adults and up to 19 families with children.

In 2017, 341 families were served in the Loudoun County Emergency Homeless Service Center, along with 103 single adults in the cold-weather facility and 157 adults in rapid rehousing programs.

Loudoun County’s median rental rates have increased by 75% in recent years to more than $1,674 per month.

In 2017, Loudoun County’s Emergency Support Services Unit provided $49,166 in housing assistance to local families.

Low-income individuals are less likely to own vehicles and have limited access to public transportation. 2.4% of Loudoun households do not have a car.

9% of Loudoun’s total population speaks English less than “very well.”

3,889 children under the age of 19 don’t have access to health insurance.

Loudoun Family Services responded to 1,209 valid reports of child abuse and neglect in 2017. The same year the department of family services provided foster care services to 48 children.

Within LCPS, 14,393 students receive free or reduced lunch — 17.1% of the student population.

Only 2 of 25 of Loudoun nonprofits have a full-time executive director, a full-time fundraising person, and a fulltime communications employee. Only 3 of 25 Loudoun nonprofits have an endowment fund, and none meet the gold-standard income threshold to offset or equal 10% of annual expenses. Only 14 of 25 Loudoun nonprofits have a reserve fund of three or more months.

7% of Loudoun residents do not have health insurance.

Loudoun County received 539 applications for childcare assistance for 943 children, but the Department of Family Services was able to provide support to benefit only 162 of these children.

Owens hopes the report and the Faces of Loudoun campaign will continue to serve their purpose: increase awareness of Loudoun residents in need, spark a passion for volunteering, increase personal and corporate giving to local nonprofits, increase funding for grants and private foundations, and increase county government funding for nonprofit organizations.

Nationwide, the bulk of household giving occurs at the end of the year. As we count our blessings during holidays and throughout the year, consider giving a gift to your neighbors in need.

FIVE WAYS TO PUT A BOW ON CHARITABLE GIVING

Donate your time.
Reach out to a local charity to find out how you can help through volunteer service. Contact places of worship, Loudoun County Government, or the Community Foundation for Loudoun and Northern Fauquier Counties if you need ideas for a good match.

Scratch the shopping list.
Team with like-minded friends and family who will agree to forego material gifts, and then choose one or more charities that could put that money to better use.

Can’t bear to give up gifts altogether?  Consider combining a token gift with a charitable donation.
Examples: A pair of cute socks or mittens combined with a note that you’ve made a donation in their name to the homeless shelter, or a tin of homemade cookies with a note that you’ve made a donation in their name to the food pantry.

Consider forming a legacy grant.
The Community Foundation can provide the needed expertise.

Include children in the gifting.
Pass the torch of compassion and find ways children can help through schools, Scouts, team sports, and places of worship. Show kids how they can also make an important difference in the lives of their less fortunate neighbors.