Charities Failing the Poor, Group Says


Charitable foundations generally have not earmarked enough money for the needs of low-income people in Los Angeles County since the riots, a coalition of community-based groups said Wednesday.

Although donations by foundations to poverty-related causes in Los Angeles County have increased somewhat since the 1992 riots, six of nine foundations studied did not meet poverty-giving goals the coalition set two years ago.

The Southern California Coalition for Responsive Philanthropy did praise three foundations for earmarking more than 50% of their nationwide giving to poverty-related programs, but criticized a number of others.

"Philanthropy must change its philosophy and priorities," Kwaku Duren, chairman of the coalition, said at a news conference. "They can do more," he said, noting that philanthropic spending on poverty increased "a mere 6%" to $153 million after the civil unrest.

Grants aimed at programs for low-income people in the county increased from 14% to 20% of the foundations' total nationwide giving from 1991 to 1992. In particular, coalition members praised the Arco Foundation for increasing poverty-related donations nationwide from 48% to 70% of its total giving, despite profits that are stagnant and an overall decrease in its charitable funding.

Coalition member Bill Watanabe, executive director of the Little Tokyo Service Center, praised Arco, the Weingart Foundation and the James Irvine Foundation for giving more than 50% of their contributions to poverty programs.

The W. M. Keck, Ahmanson, Ralph M. Parsons, Dan Murphy and BankAmerica foundations did not meet the 50% goal set by the coalition in 1992. The California Community Foundation gave 68% of its discretionary contributions to poverty-related causes. But it did not meet the 75% goal the coalition set for foundations run by community groups.

The nine foundations included in the study contributed the largest amounts of money to Los Angeles County of any such groups in the county.

Several foundations that did not meet the poverty-related goal called the 50% figure arbitrary and noted that some donations that benefit the poor may not have been counted as such.

"Grants to scientific institutions pursuing causes of AIDS or sickle-cell anemia may not appear to some as being of assistance to the poor," Joseph Hurley, president of the board of directors of the Ralph M. Parsons Foundation, said in a written statement. "Our purpose is to be of aid to mankind, not to a specific group with a political or other agenda."

Lee Walcott, managing director of the Ahmanson Foundation, noted that although it did not meet the 50% standard, it ranked second only to the Weingart Foundation in the amount of money it donated to poverty-related causes in Los Angeles in 1992.

"The foundation has been responsive to the needs of the low-income population and will continue to be in the future," said Walcott. He said that in 1993, a year not addressed in the study, the foundation increased the share of poverty-related funding from 33% to 42% of total funding.

A spokesman for Bank of America, whose foundation was placed near the bottom in terms of percentage of donations to poverty-related causes, said the fact that its corporate United Way donations were not counted hurt its ranking. (Most of the other foundations did not contribute significant amounts to United Way, the study said.)

Moreover, said Cary Walker, a spokesman for the bank, many of its loan programs aimed at low-income homeowners and to business people were not included in the study.

Coalition officials said they hope the surge in interest in urban issues after the 1992 riots will not fade with time. "We're afraid that as the riots recede from people's memories, the need for change may be forgotten," Watanabe said. "If these needs remain unaddressed they can and will rise again in senseless destruction."

The coalition also called on foundations to diversify their boards of directors to reflect the communities they serve, and to give grass-roots organizations more access to those who decide where funds will be distributed.

Fighting Poverty The Southern California Coalition for Responsive Philanthropy in 1992 urged foundations to earmark at least 50% of their giving to poverty-related causes. Here is what nine top foundations did:

PERCENTAGE OF NATIONAL GIVING TO L.A. POVERTY CHANGE FROM FOUNDATION POVERTY PROGRAMS PROGRAM FUNDS 1991 FUNDS Weingart 56% $7.7 million +$2.6 million Ahmanson 33% $6.3 million +$1.3 million Irvine 60% $4.2 million +$1.7 million Arco 70% $3.7 million +$994,445 Murphy 35% $3.1 million +$1.6 million Parsons 29% $2.2 million +$990,685 Calif. Community* 68% $2 million +$689,541 Keck 2% $540,000 -$245,000 BankAmerica** 28% $450,600 +$272,100

*Includes only funds over which the foundation has discretion.

** Does not include $3.5 million in corporate (non-employee) gifts to United Way.

Source: Southern California Coalition for Responsive Philanthropy

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