Each year in summer our towns welcome people from away who love this place. And in return they give back generously. Two types of organizations are the principle beneficiaries: those that offer a service to paying members and others that promise ‘public good’ in return for tax exemption.
There are plenty of good nonprofits that deserve help — but sophisticated donors should be wary of sophisticated pitches.
In the cases where a nonprofit provides a service to paying members, donors should make sure that those nonprofits really value the input of the members as much as they do the attention of summer donors. Disproportionate large gifts in particular can create powerful institutions led by highly paid administrators dismissive of feedback from their own staffs and ordinary members.
In other cases – where a ‘public good’ project takes property off the tax rolls — donors should consider the long-term impact. While it’s easy to agree that waterfront parks are pleasant — as in one example — a fair question might be to ask why the inner harbor needs a new park eliminating prime commercial revenue property when another beauty, Barrett’s, languishes in financial need less than a ½ a mile away? Donors need look no further than the proposed new park’s abutting town Fish Pier with its failing docks, or the aging footbridge, or the neglected high school buildings — unfunded liabilities that together represent more than $10 million in urgent capital investment — to conclude that the town needs income more than vanity. Commerce and jobs pay the bills — not splash pools and free docks.
One good way to assure that your donations are well targeted would be a match requirement including verified evidence of abundant small donations from the local working community: Like you, they give when it’s right. Absent of such participation, an institution has likely become an empire or a new project a misguided liability, at a time when the town can ill afford either.
Boothbay Harbor taxpayer