At Modest Needs, Small Gifts Add Up to Life-Changing Help

In this current economic climate, money is tight for many people, the unemployment rate is in the double digits, and more people fall under the poverty level than has been reported in more than 50 years. Many of those who escaped the most severe consequences of our economic crisis are walking a fine line between day-to-day financial security and ruin with the potential to be toppled by an unexpected expenditure. Any bump in the road: a car repair, a health issue not covered by insurance, utility bill spike, or raised rent could send them over the edge. Where do they go for help? Modest Needs.How Did It Begin?

In 2002, Dr. Keith Taylor came to a realization. He had been waiting for years to become rich enough to start a foundation and help people, but he finally accepted the fact that that day might never come. He says, “The people who helped me haven’t been rich, they’ve been kind.”

So he decided to downsize his life and dedicate 10% of his salary (about $350 per month) as an English professor at a small college toward helping people who don’t qualify for any other type of assistance, but need help just the same. He created the Modest Needs website in late March and by early April it had gotten more than 10,000 hits and requests were pouring in. Unexpectedly, individuals were also writing Taylor asking how they could help.

Modest Needs tells prospective grantees right away that if they require long-term assistance, that this isn’t the place for them. The sole purpose of Modest Needs is to help people over a short-term financial crisis and get them back on track. The average size of a grant is $500, with a maximum of $1000, so Modest Needs can help a large number of people on a relatively small operating budget.

Their logic? A one-time gift of $500 in a single month can result in that family or individual being able to pay for a car repair or pay the electric bill or the rent, enabling the primary breadwinner to continue to work. This generates an average of $900 in additional income for that month that would have been lost due to the financial emergency. If that family had lost their transportation or housing and, subsequently, their primary source of income, they would have lost $900 per month ever after and most likely had to seek alternate government assistance. Therefore, that one-time gift of $500 could result in continued income, keep that family from being lost in a cycle of poverty, and spare the government the cost of supporting them on a long-term basis.

Who Does It Help?
From a widowed mother of four that needed a new engine for her car, to a couple who needed a headstone for their stillborn grandson, to a mother who needed special-made glasses so her son could see her for the first time, to a mother on a fixed income whose water heater broke, to a domestic abuse survivor who needed a bed for her recently hospitalized son so he wouldn’t have to sleep on the floor – it is amazing to think that these people were helped in such a profound way by sums of less than $1000 each.

Taylor’s favorite story is of a woman who worked hard for years and finally landed her dream union job, only to discover that she had to pay the $220 dues before she could start. Modest Needs paid her dues, paving the way to a shining career marked by multiple promotions, a significant job change, and, finally, her first home – a condo in Oakland, CA.

How Does It Work?
Modest Needs requires extensive documentation from each grantee substantiating their need. After the grantee has been vetted, they are added to the grantee list. When donors contribute money, they receive points corresponding to the amount. They can then log on to the website, read the grantee requests, and award their points to whomever they see fit. 100% of donations are awarded to the grantee. All of Modest Needs’ operating costs are funded by an outside foundation. The 501c3 is a 4-star charity on Charity Navigator, a 3rd party site that vets the operations of charities.

Once a grantee accumulates enough points to fulfill their need, Modest Needs sends a check to the appropriate vendor and a letter to the donor detailing exactly where their contribution went. The website is flooded with heartfelt thank you notes, and an astounding 70% of grantees turn around and become long-term donors.

Soon after Modest Needs launched, a foundation approached Taylor to make a sizable gift. Taylor turned them down, wanting individual gifts to remain the driving force behind the change. Instead, the foundation matches all monthly commitments. If you donate $5 one time, it’s $5. If you donate $5 a month, it becomes $10 a month instantly. Taylor reports that the average donor gives $1 per day, or $30 per month, but even the smallest amount quickly adds up to become a giant change in someone’s life.

What Can You Do?
Contact Modest Needs. If you choose to donate a small sum, you can determine where it goes and know exactly whose life you’ve changed this holiday season.

Andrea Newell has more than ten years of experience designing, developing and writing ERP e-learning materials for large corporations in several industries. She was a consultant for PricewaterhouseCoopers and a contract consultant for companies like IBM, BP, Marathon Oil, Pfizer, and Steelcase, among others. She is a writer and former editor at TriplePundit and a social media blog fellow at The Story of Stuff Project. She has contributed to In Good Company (Vault's CSR blog), Evolved Employer, The Glass Hammer, EcoLocalizer and CSRwire. She is a volunteer at the West Michigan Environmental Action Council and lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan. You can reach her at and @anewell3p on Twitter.

One response

Leave a Reply