Bear Market for Charities
Wall Street Journal
NEW YORK — Geoffrey Canada has spent decades building a strategy for saving poor children from crime-ridden streets and crumbling public schools.
His “Harlem Children’s Zone” now serves thousands of kids, some of whom are showing impressive test scores. He has attracted the attention of the new White House because of his charity’s model: Instead of tackling problems here and there, the program envelops an entire neighborhood, with services ranging from parenting classes to health clinics to charter schools.
But Wall Street’s meltdown and money manager Bernard Madoff’s alleged financial fraud threaten the donor base that bankrolls Mr. Canada’s work. Facing declining revenues, he’s had to lay off staff and cancel plans to expand. He says he doesn’t yet “have a Plan B” for replacing his Wall Street support, which had reached upwards of $15 million annually.
Mr. Canada’s difficulties show how dependent nonprofits can become on certain steady donors, and how their plans can be derailed when those revenues dry up. It underscores the challenges facing nonprofits, which grew and proliferated amid the bull-market earlier this decade.
Today, the U.S. boasts more than one million nonprofits, up from about 774,000 ten years ago. Their biggest donations come from corporations, foundations and the ultra-wealthy. Many have been hit hard by the deepening recession. A drop in charitable contributions could shutter as many as 100,000 nonprofits over the next year, says Paul Light, a professor at New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service.
Mr. Canada, a 57-year-old social worker, calls his strategy the “conveyor belt,” because it aims to give children an intensive experience in a succession of programs until they graduate from college. Children in pre-kindergarten are taught foreign languages, for instance. From there, children enter Mr. Canada’s charter schools with longer school days and a calendar lasting until the first week of August.
The approach is starting to deliver results. Last year, nearly all the third-graders in Mr. Canada’s charter schools scored at or above grade-level in math, better than recent citywide averages. Eighth-graders outperformed the average New York student in math, according to New York state data.
“The math thing is just so far above anything I’ve ever seen,” says Roland Fryer, a Harvard economist who heads a new education lab. “The real hard work is to figure out why it’s working and whether that kind of thing can be exported so we can help more kids.”
President Barack Obama’s advisers met with Mr. Canada recently to learn more about his approach. Mr. Obama said during the campaign that he wants to create “promise neighborhoods” modeled on Mr. Canada’s charity in 20 cities across the U.S. Today, that initiative remains part of the White House’s publicized agenda.
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Breaks my heart to post this.