When Small Financial Hurdles Threaten to Derail, Everyday Donors Step In

May 14, 2014 |

The air is thick with news, opinions and positions on poverty and opportunity in the U.S. While many voices bemoan the tattered state of the American Dream, those involved in the two-generation field, spurred by Ascend at the Aspen Institute, are acting. I had the honor of connecting in person with the Ascend team and some of its partners and Fellows on April 16 and 17 in my hometown of Evanston, Illinois. I felt like my nonprofit, Benevolent, and I were hanging out with like-minded people and hope to engage with more of you.

Benevolent (www.benevolent.net) is a nonprofit platform that partners with local and national nonprofits, schools, and agencies to invite everyday donors to help meet the one-time needs of clients and students as situations pop up that threaten to derail a family’s progress. We are inviting organizations that directly serve families to become Benevolent partners and use our supports to help your client families succeed.

We’ve all seen it…

A mom like Catherine (above) is ready to take a new job for which she’s trained and ready, but she needs gear or a uniform or bus fare just to start on her first day. Catherine said: “I am a single mother of three living with a family member. I need help funding my gear and transportation to and from work so that I can provide for our basic needs and have a home of our own.”

Or someone like Lisa, below, who could only find part-time work and was left without enough in savings to provide a safe crib for her newborn. Lisa said: “I would like to transition into a full-time work position but in the meantime I have to manage my bills on a limited income to provide for my family. Payment of these bills leaves me with a very limited amount of funding for other general needs.”

When a family is asset-poor and on the financial margins, often a single hurdle  can be the thing that leads to a family falling short of its goals. A Brookings Institute study of financial fragility in the U.S. found that “Almost half of all U.S. households surveyed report that they either certainly or probably could not come up with the funds to deal with an ordinary financial shock of this size [$2,000].” At Benevolent, we’ve found that small hurdles – even those costing just $300 to $700 to overcome – can represent huge barriers in the lives of low-income families pursuing a path toward financial stability and strength.

Funds to meet these hurdles – uniforms or bus fare for a new job, furniture for a first apartment, a laptop to go to school, funds for certifications and training, and other basic one-time challenges – can be the lynchpin of progress. In Benevolent’s early stages of pilot and scale, we’ve found that individual donors – Benevolent’s everyday givers – are excited to contribute to help one person over a clear barrier. Our donors step in and help in a way that breeds respect and support between a person striving to pull his or her family forward and someone who is honored to help. When we raise the funds, Benevolent sends a grant along to our local partner which then fulfills their client’s need. Benevolent relies on our partners to report back on the progress of clients who receive support, then we pass these updates along to the donors who are always eager to know how their support has helped.

What we find striking, in fact, are the notes of support that donors send along to those they choose to help. Maikil, below, a father from Maryland who needed tools so he could complete a training program to become an electrician, received this note from a donor who stepped in to help: “You are just like me. You can do it. I slept on my friend's couch for 4 months after I ran out of savings and was unemployed. I now run my own business. Much success to you and your family.”

We all know the gaps in the safety net and we’ve all seen these challenges derail families. If you are thinking about how to better serve children and their parents together, I invite you to join the Benevolent network and make use of our platform and our dedicated donors. It’s simple. Your team members can take a half hour to help a client tell his or her story with dignity and clarity via the Benevolent platform. Currently, there is a 92 percent chance that the need will be funded in full, after which Benevolent will send the funds directly to your organization to meet your client’s need. Let’s take positive action together to elevate the dignified voices of low-income families in the process.


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