Susan Hay Patrick

The late-night call came last week from a local business leader. A “household word” Missoula nonprofit was having trouble making payroll. Did I know of any quick sources of last-minute cash to help? Sadly, I did not – and it was not the first time this month I’d received a similar call.

Our local nonprofit community – despite powerful and effective work to improve Missoula’s quality of life every day – is struggling this year. Even though Missoula Economic Partnership data shows increases in overall jobs and average earnings, and even though the stock market is rebounding, this good economic news has yet to reach most local nonprofits.

Recent studies reveal that charitable giving is also down nationally, except among the mega-wealthy. Donors are slower to give, pledge, or pay off pledges, as inflation eats away at household budgets. Corporate giving has also fallen, and foundations report unprecedented numbers of grant requests.

Adding to the uncertainty are worries about wars in Ukraine and the Middle East, and a toxic political climate as a presidential election year approaches. A scarcity mentality – not entirely justified, but entirely real – threatens to take hold. We cannot let it take hold in Missoula.

Giving Tuesday – the annual charitable-giving push the Tuesday after Thanksgiving – offers donors the opportunity to support the causes they care about most, and gives nonprofits the chance to remind our community of the life-changing, life-giving work they do every day to build a better, stronger, more vibrant community for everyone.

There is no denying that a strong and vibrant nonprofit sector is a defining feature of our beloved community. Think about the impact nonprofits have on every aspect of life in Missoula, whether they focus on human services, education, arts, the environment, animals. Missoulians can help reverse the steep decline in local giving by making a gift at any level to their favorite nonprofit. No gift is too small – or too large. It’s easy to make your donation online (and pay the credit card processing fee) or to stick a check in the mail.

We nonprofits must continuously remind donors, businesses, foundations, and the media about the unparalleled contributions we make to Missoula; that by doing what governments cannot or will not do on behalf of society, we improve the quality of life for everyone.

At a time when Americans are losing faith in the ability of charitable giving to make a difference, we must remind everyone that lack of sustainable funding is the single biggest factor thwarting our impact. It’s fair for donors to expect us to craft and implement lasting solutions and demonstrate measurable results, but doing so takes money. Most local nonprofits feel like the roof is caving in, and it’s hard to hold up the roof without financial help.

The late Fred Rogers – beloved host of the children’s television show “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” – advised us all to “look for the helpers” during tough times. One doesn’t have to look far to find helpers in Missoula. They are housing homeless people, saving abandoned animals, helping kids reach their full potential, protecting the environment, feeding hungry neighbors, enriching our lives through the arts – and doing so much more.

At this challenging moment, generous Missoulians can make sure this inspiring, effective work continues, and grows. On Giving Tuesday, we don’t have to give until it hurts. We have to give until it helps.

Susan Hay Patrick is chief executive officer of United Way of Missoula County.