Cambrian: Opinion

Cuts in foreign aid, NEA funds bad news for volunteers

The columnist shot this photo Sunday, March 12, at Cochon555 in Santa Monica at the Viceroy. Organizers of charity events such as this will have to work harder if federal funding dries up.
The columnist shot this photo Sunday, March 12, at Cochon555 in Santa Monica at the Viceroy. Organizers of charity events such as this will have to work harder if federal funding dries up. Special to The Cambrian

Spring’s songs and whistles texture the air over our coastal community. But the cacophonous sound of angst plays against nature’s efforts — especially in the nonprofit and volunteerism world.

It’s about money. It’s about distracted volunteers. There are challenges ahead. Challenges, however, can give blossom to new opportunities and information.

Globally, the new administration in Washington, D.C., plans “fairly dramatic reductions” in the U.S. foreign aid budget, according to a recent Reuters report. While foreign aid is less than 1 percent of the annual budget, the proposed reductions have brought major concerns to global charities like the Helen Keller International (HKI) efforts to combat malnutrition in Africa, Asia and the U.S. The CEO, Kathy Spahn, said USAID is an important funding source for HKI. That’s one sample among many global charities dependent upon a share of America’s tax dollars to feed the impoverished, fight disease and educate the underprivileged in developing countries.

Nationally, a toxic political climate has caused nonprofits to begin to pay for increased security. With a rash of bomb threats against both Jewish and Muslim facilities, the cost of security does not come cheap. A high-definition security camera system alone can cost $30,000. The costs of additional security patrols and other security efforts will have to voluntarily come from the pockets of the faithful — thwarting other charitable efforts by the faithful.

It’s not just religious groups adding security in this current political environment, but “nonprofits that work on contentious issues like immigration, abortion, civil rights, and combating bigotry are also investing in security,” according to a recent report by The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

The report goes on to say, “Charities have few options to help pay for security. A Department of Homeland Security program offers grants to vulnerable organizations in certain urban areas, but the funding only goes for security infrastructure, equipment and planning efforts — not for staffing. … It’s also difficult to get funds from donors and private foundations. Security costs are usually considered administrative expenses.”

How will budget cuts to the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) impact such national treasures as the American Ballet Theatre? How will these cuts impact local art and theatrical venues? I cringe at the thought of serving on any board of directors faced with slashed federal aid, and having to lean more heavily than they already do on private donors and foundations.

Locally, the concern is the condition of Highway 1 and how that will impact tourism. Tourism dollars can eventually drip down to nonprofits via lodging tax distribution for events. Fewer lodgers, less income, less distribution for nonprofit fundraising events (that qualify). Tourism dollars also benefit local businesses that are the left arm for fundraising efforts by their donations of goods and services raffled and auctioned off.

And then there is the distraction element for volunteers. Open up any social media genre, and you will likely see a flurry of citizens now taking civic action. That’s good. But it takes time away from other volunteer efforts.

So where do we find the opportunities?

Globally, nonprofits are now commanded to maintain their humanitarian efforts by better communicating the actual impact of their work to the benefit of humanity. A recent survey indicates that most Americans are under the false assumption that we give much more than 1 percent of our national budget to foreign aid.

Nationally, the conversation has begun. Like the Joni Mitchell lyric, “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone,” has roused the fire of the good dragon of nonprofit work. Jews are helping Muslims who have lost their mosques, and Muslims have come to the aid of Jewish facilities under attack. Christians and other faiths have come to the aid of both Muslim and Jewish cries for help. Empathy is alive — and that is the heart of volunteerism.

Locally, giving our time to a local need may help alleviate some of the angst that clouds our air.

The Cambrian columnist and local volunteer Christine Heinrichs suggested this when I expressed my concern about these unsettled times, “Local groups need more participation. It can also be fun. Beautify Cambria needs help putting on events, with the upcoming May 7 Bee Faire (which attracted hundreds of people last year in its first event) and a Movie Night coming up.

“Beautify Cambria is also working on ADA accessibility issues, such as the sidewalks that are a problem to people in wheelchairs or using walkers. Fire Safe works with issues such as helping invalids in the event of a fire, and helping people with pets. The Forest Committee is exploring whether we should pursue endangered species status for the Monterey pine. Trail Stewards will soon have a meeting with the state archaeologist to learn about why we need to be so careful pulling weeds in Native American sites.”

Now there’s a list of opportunities that may well return the spring to our steps, and out blossom the predicted wildflowers that will follow this winter’s abundant rain.

Charmaine Coimbra’s column appears the fourth Thursday of each month and is special to The Cambrian.