As a consultant to nonprofits, I’m on more than my fair share of end-of-year appeal lists. Just yesterday, I opened envelopes from an organization working for economic justice, one busy fighting for the rights of immigrants, and two others busy protecting the environment. The sad fact is that I’m not able to support all the deserving organizations that ask for my help. But there’s one organization that I always make sure to include in my charitable giving budget.

Chronicle Season of Sharing Fund is different from most of the groups I work with. They don’t have an advocacy mission, and aren’t focused on or big-picture policy issues or questions of justice. The change they make is measured in the lives of individuals and families experiencing an unexpected crisis who they help with one-time grants made through social service agencies across the Bay Area.

Each year, the Chronicle shares stories about the people helped by the Fund. One they published recently, about Tracie Long and her family, is typical. Ms. Long went through a tough spell recently. After 14 years with the post office and a stint as a property manager, she was laid off. When her unemployment benefits ran out, she found herself on welfare, but she never stopped looking for work.

Her perseverance paid off when she found a good job as a full-time property manager. But the long period of unemployment had taken its toll, and she was several months behind on the rent. Despite the promise of a paycheck just around the corner, Ms. Long and her three children were facing homelessness. Thankfully, Season of Sharing was there to provide a small grant that paid the back rent so she could focus on her new job and providing for her family.

Now, that’s a nice story, and I don’t deny that it makes me feel good to support an organization that helps my neighbors when they need it most. But it turns out that the kind of grants that Season of Sharing makes are also a smart poverty-fighting strategy.

When the Census Department unveiled its new approach to measuring poverty last year, University of Indiana Professor Leslie Lenkowsky wrote in the Chronicle of Philanthropy about some of its implications for philanthropy. It turns out that:

  • A large percentage of Americans move in and out of poverty regularly. Only a relatively small proportion— 2.2 percent in the most recent study—remained consistently poor from 2004 to 2007.
  • For grant makers and nonprofit groups trying to reduce poverty, the implication of this finding—reinforced by the new approach to counting the poor— is that identifying ways to assist those on the margins of poverty could make a difference.

Which is, of course, exactly what Season of Sharing does– providing a way for neighbors to help neighbors when their giving can do the most good. Because the Chronicle and the Haas, Jr. Fund pay all of the Fund’s administrative costs, every dollar donated goes directly to families at a tipping point in their lives.

Feel-good stories and smart poverty-fighting strategies? That’s a combination that gets my support every time.

How about yours?

(Image courtesy Season of Sharing Fund)

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HeathHeath Wickline has made his 2012 Season of Sharing contribution. Will you consider making one, too?