> Fiscal Strategies
(Published in 2005)
Brian Souza got the word last spring that a local philanthropy, Sailors’ Snug Harbor of Boston, was considering narrowing or even ending its grantmaking for older adult programs, in this city with a strong tradition of social services and philanthropy. A sputtering economy in recent years has reduced donations from many foundations and has forced several to reprioritize their giving.
As executive director of the Boston Partnership for Older Adults (BPOA), a grantee of Community Partnerships for Older Adults, Souza prepared the group to act. After all, one of its goals is to broaden the net of giving to older adult-focused organizations in Boston, particularly to the 70-something nonprofit groups under the partnership’s umbrella.
The amount that Sailors’ Snug Harbor gives to senior-focused organizations totals about $175,000. Many of the organizations in the partnership are small and rely heavily on these funds.
“Although the dollar amount is not large, the potential impact would have been great,” Souza says of any funding reductions by Sailors’ Snug Harbor. He and leaders of two groups benefiting from Sailors’ Snug Harbor funding, the Committee to End Elder Homelessness and Homeowner Options for Massachusetts Elders, met last May with the foundation’s administrator, Gracelaw Simmons, and six trustees.
“The goal of the meeting was to discuss the state of elder services in Boston,” Souza recalls, “to present our data on the changing demographics and to discuss how the limited funding of a foundation like this can make a difference.”
Three months later, the partnership’s efforts paid off. In August, Simmons told Souza that “the candid conversation that afternoon, supported by the research and analysis undertaken by the BPOA, resulted in the foundation’s recommitment to older adults in the city of Boston and an enhanced understanding of the value of unrestricted operating support to community-based organizations.”
As well as encouraging charitable organizations to increase their support or at least stay committed to Boston’s older adult community, Souza and the BPOA are also convincing philanthropies, well-endowed organizations, and others that have never contributed to senior-focused causes to start doing so. The partnership is also urging current philanthropic friends to redirect existing support to address acute but overlooked problems among the city’s older adults.
Information is the tool Souza uses to get the attention of the funding community. Last year the partnership issued a report called “100,000 Voices” that, for the first time, provided an extensive and centralized source of data about Boston’s older adults. A surprising picture of this population emerged. Highlights from the report and a comprehensive synthesis of data and information drawn from other sources showed that:
The poverty rate for older adults in Boston was 18 percent, nearly twice that for Massachusetts and the national poverty rate for older adults.
Between 3,000 and 4,000 older Bostonians were on waiting lists for subsidized housing, and nearly 1,000 were homeless.
Older adults in Boston were among the poorest, least educated and most functionally impaired seniors compared with seven other communities surveyed as part a study sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
BPOA is making real strides in directing attention to the plight of older Bostonians and the funding needs of the many services that help the city’s senior citizens. The 70 senior-focused organizations participating in the partnership are improving collaboration, while working through issues that arise in such a partnership of independent-minded groups.
“Boston Partnership is an important convener and that is not a small thing to do,” says Cindy Rizzo, program officer for The Boston Foundation, one of this city’s biggest philanthropies and one that identified older adults as a top funding priority. “They have brought everyone to the table and they’ve all been able to work together.”
In addition to successfully raising the profile of problems and issues facing Boston’s elders with Sailors’ Snug Harbor, some of the partnership’s early achievements in fundraising and awareness include:
Creating the nation’s first Elder Friendly Business District – Located in the Mission Hill neighborhood, the business district is a high-profile effort by the City of Boston, the BPOA and others to make city business districts safe and more accessible, so that older adults can shop, socialize and access information that will enable them to age in place, with dignity.
Finding new sources of funding – BPOA seeks new and increased funding streams so that dozens of strong-willed partnership members are not reduced to competing with each other for existing funding, and instead work in unison. The partnership, for example, sought and received new funding from corporate affairs at Massachusetts Blue Cross Blue Shield for an effort to better educate Boston health care providers about geriatric care. Normally, Blue Cross philanthropy comes from its foundation, not from corporate affairs.
Redirecting funding to needed areas – One outcome of the partnership’s effort to collect and use data is that it can identify holes in the safety net for older adults and target where donations can best be used. For example, the city’s Grimes-King Foundation, a contributor to efforts supporting older African-American women, redirected some support to mental health services for this population after partnership data showed underfunding for such services to this group.
While overall figures are elusive, Souza believes funding for senior services is disproportionately lower than donations going to other populations such as children. For example, United Way of Massachusetts Bay does not specifically focus on the older adult population. Its four focus areas are children, youth, sustainable employment and housing. Only housing overlaps with senior-related concerns, and the partnership’s goal is to change that.
Another effort by the partnership is designed to influence many foundations’ priority-setting. BPOA is beginning a major analysis of where funds for older adult resources come from—including state and local governments, service fees and philanthropies—and where they are distributed. The results, which Souza feels will highlight the disparity in resources for senior-focused efforts, will be distributed to all service agencies and funding sources in Boston in late 2005.
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