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PROPER FINANCIAL SUPPORT, AND HOW TO GET IT.
ABSTRACT OF PAPER BY ANSLEY WILCOX, BUFFALO.
The subject which has been assigned to me for discussion covers what is perhaps the most important, but is certainly the least inspiring and, generally, the least encouraging portion of our work. Nearly every charity organization society in the country has to struggle constantly to raise the money which is needed for its current expenses. Its officers are held back from work which they would like to do, and feel that they ought to do, by lack of means. An annual deficit, actual or threatened, is a damper upon the courage and the energy of those workers, who need all the courage and energy which nature has given them to do their life-saving work effectively. It is well, then, to consider whether such deficits should ever exist, and, if not, how they should be prevented.
No protracted campaign can be carried on without adequate financial support. A grand social warfare against pauperism is what is embodied in the charity organization movement. It is an attempt to organize into an army the scattered bands of irregular and irresponsible troops which have been attacking the strongholds of pauperism at disconnected points. It attempts to concentrate their energies, to save them from mistakes and conflicts between themselves, and to furnish the information as to existing facts without which intelligent action is impossible. In the matter of supplying information the charity organization societies occupy the same relation to the charitable workers of their communities which military maps, a plan of campaign, the military telegraph, and signal service do to an army in the field.
It needs no argument to show that such generalship and such information, although it costs money to supply them, do not add to the total expense of any extensive campaign. On the contrary, they tend to diminish the cost just in proportion as they are effective, by avoiding waste and mistakes and promoting a successful issue. So a charity organization society, although it costs moneysometimes a great deal of mɔney -to support it, does not add to
the burdens which the existence of poverty, pauperism, and crime imposes upon charitable and financially responsible citizens. It saves much more than its own cost in every year that its work is well done. But, looking over larger periods of time, when we consider the effects of well-directed energies in charitable work as contrasted with misdirected energies, when we consider the difference between uplifting an individual or a family and actually rooting out pauperism in their case, on the one hand, and merely relieving their temporary wants with the result of imbedding pauperism more deeply in them, and spreading it more widely, on the other hand, the financial saving effected by a charity organization society is seen to be enormous. If one person saved from pauperism and turned into ways of self-support and productiveness is worth to the world several thousand dollars, as has been estimated, how large a credit balance can our charity organization societies claim as against their annual expenses?
It is necessary to bear constantly in mind what is the proper relation of such a society for organizing charity to the other charitable bodies and agencies of the city, and to make them understand it, and to make the public understand it, before the society can command adequate and constant financial support. If this is done, I do not believe that such a society will ever lack financial support adequate to its needs.
First, found the society, and conduct it strictly upon a sound basis, as a regulator, assistant, and information bureau for all other charities. Carefully avoid any unnecessary interference with them, and establish as soon as possible a harmonious relation of interdependence between the charity organization society and all other working charities. Second, do the work which is undertaken by the society thoroughly and promptly. If it cannot be done in this way, it is useless, and had better not be done at all. Third, make the public understand and appreciate the work, why it is needed, and what its results are, why it costs so much money, and just how the money is expended. It is at this last point that most of the charity organization societies which suffer acutely from lack of financial support will find the chance of improving their condition. They are founded and conducted upon proper lines. They have generally harmonious relations with other charities, and they do their work well; but they fail to make the proper impression upon the public and to keep that
impression alive. Under no circumstances will wealth flow into their treasury without effort on their part. But, if this basis of public appreciation and moral support exists, the needed financial support can be obtained with certainty, and with only the ordinary amount of labor which such a quest always involves.
And here, after all, is the practical difficulty, how to make the right impression on the public mind and to keep that impression alive. In Buffalo we have been struggling against it for twenty years, and only within the last three or four years are we conscious of making a distinct advance in popular appreciation of our work.
That we have made such an advance, and with good financial results, is shown by a little local history, which I may venture to relate. Within the past six months we have raised over $20,000, and expect, before we get through, to raise nearly $30,000 in all, to clear off an old accumulation of debt and put our society squarely on its feet. In order to do this, we first prepared a circular, explaining clearly our financial condition and how it had arisen, and showing that our work must stop unless the public furnished us with means to carry it on properly and to pay our debts. We followed this up by personal appeals to people of means, made by our trustees; and in this way we have raised over $15,000 in large subscriptions. Then we organized a movement among the women of the city to increase our ordinary five-dollar supporting membership, with the result of nearly doubling our list of paying members. These efforts were supplemented by two entertainments which produced over $3,500. The outcome is most gratifying, not only in its effects upon one local society, but, more broadly, as showing that the public, in a typical American city, can be made to appreciate the work of charity organization, and will come to its support, even in very hard times, in response to an unusual appeal for aid. To secure this response requires time, labor, constant care, and, above all, tact. The work of the society itself must be done in a warm-hearted way, with real love for our neighbors and desire to benefit them as the inspiring motive. It must not be done mechanically, or coldly, or by rule of thumb, however faithfully that rule may be applied.
The public mind and heart are like the mind and heart of a child. It appreciates instantly a real warmth of feeling, a genuine interest and affection, in one who comes in contact with it, and always responds to such a feeling if given a chance. It is never satisfied by
mere lip service or outward observances, however correctly these may be performed.
This effort is more necessary in the case of the movement for organizing charity than in many other movements which rely upon public appreciation and financial support, for one obvious reason. The idea of organizing and informing and directing charitable work does not in itself arouse enthusiasm in those to whom it is first presented, or quickly awaken their sympathy. It will command intellectual assent, but that is apt to be all. Again, some of the methods which have to be followed in the work often seem tiresome and mechanical,— the investigation and registration of facts and painstaking attention to details. All this makes it quite different from an orphan asylum or any child-saving work, a hospital, a social settlement, or any movement which undertakes to deal directly with some one recognized social evil. Just in so far as this difference renders it more difficult for us to awaken popular enthusiasm and hearty appreciation of the work of organizing charity, it is the more necessary that the enthusiasm should be supplied by warm-hearted and zealous workers. This will arouse a response where nothing else would do so.
Then, again, this zeal for the work must be regulated by good judgment. There are no precise limits to the legitimate work of a charity organization society. It may confine itself to the collection and registration of facts, and be a mere information bureau. pensable as this work is, it alone can never arouse popular sympathy or warm appreciation. If the work is confined to this, it ought logically to be paid for by the city government, and the expense spread evenly over the community by taxation; but the practical objections to this system in most American cities would be insurmountable. The next best plan, if it were practicable, of paying the expenses of such a mere bureau of information would be to assess them on the persons and bodies using the information; but it is safe to say that this could not generally be made to work. In fine, I do not know of any satisfactory way in which a society which limited itself to acquiring and recording information about poor persons could secure proper financial support.
But I do not know of any society which is so limited in its scope. All of the societies have bodies of friendly visitors, working under them or in co-operation with them, whose labor of love it is to uplift
the poor and drive out pauperism. And all, or nearly all of them, go beyond this, and engage in some fields of active charitable work, either temporarily or permanently, where they find a need of their labor,— a void not filled by an existing body of workers.
This is where sound judgment and tact come into play,—in selecting these fields for expansion, and utilizing them in such a way as not only to do the most good, but to draw to the society the popular sympathy and financial as well as moral support which it needs for its sterner and less appealing work. It is largely through the influence of our Crèche, our Accident Hospital, our Provident Dispensary (which has now been followed and almost supplanted by numbers of other dispensaries) that the Buffalo society has strengthened its hold on the public in recent years; and this is only an illustration.
Moreover, every such society finds opportunities to take part in public movements of a temporary nature, designed to meet special emergencies; and, even if it does not approve of everything that is done, it is best to co-operate heartily, and to do what is possible to keep them in safe channels.
These suggestions are not exhaustive, but they are sufficient. The fundamental fact remains that proper financial support for such a movement depends upon moral support by the public,— not mere indifferent acquiescence, but earnest appreciation and sympathy; and the way to get the financial support is to deserve and to secure this kind of moral support.