THE MODEST NEEDS 2011-2012 ANNUAL REPORT

Introduction

In keeping with our commitment to operational transparency, Modest Needs publishes an annual report which is freely accessible to the public at large both via our website or in hard-copy.

The purpose of this annual report is to update interested persons on our prior year's program service achievements and to report on other significant accomplishments by Modest Needs throughout 2011 and 2012.

Our Mission Statement

At Modest Needs, we work to prevent otherwise self-sufficient but low-income households from entering the cycle of poverty and to strengthen the communities in which these persons live. We do this by offering several specific grant types:

  • The Self-Sufficiency Grant: Our Self-Sufficiency grant is our hallmark grant and helps low income workers to afford short-term emergency expenses that would otherwise pose an enormous burden to the applicant;

  • The New Employment Grant: Our New Employment grant is designed to assist who do not meet our self-sufficiency standard but are attempting to return to work by helping them to afford expenses that will allow them to pursue new employment, or to begin a new job that the applicant recently has been offered.

  • The Bridge Grant: To assist persons who've recently returned to work after a period of unemployment and are likely to meet our self-sufficiency standard once they've received a full month's pay, Modest Needs offers the Bridge Grant. The Bridge Grant is designed to assist persons who've recently returned to work but not yet received a full month's pay by working to prevent foreclosure / eviction or the loss of critical services (like transportation or electricity) while the applicant transitions from unemployment back to work.

  • The Emergency Grant: To assist persons who have time-sensitive, urgent applications for assistance, Modest Needs maintains an emergency fund (new in 2011) that allows the organization to remit payment for such expenses on a nearly-immediate basis.

  • The Homecoming Heroes Grant: Through our Homecoming Heroes grant (new in 2012), Modest Needs is proud to support military veterans who have recently returned home from overseas deployment to afford emergency expenses while they wait for the benefits to which they are entitled via their service to our country to be approved and processed.

  • The Non-Profit Grant: Modest Needs' non-profit grant allows small non-profit organizations - organizations whose needs are important but too small to catch the eye of a larger grant maker - to afford expenses that will clearly strengthen the programs and services they provide to the communities that they serve in both the short and long terms.

Modest Needs in 2011-2012: Professionalizing Modest Needs

In 2010, Modest Needs spent nearly the entire year coming to terms with the long-term effects of the recession on the organization and adjusting our operational model to cut operational costs while increasing grant-making capacity.

This done, the years 2011 and 2012 have been dedicated to a single purpose: the 'professionalization' of Modest Needs. With this all-important goal in mind, Modest Needs' milestones in 2011 and 2012 included:

  • The reconstitution of Modest Needs' Board of Directors

  • The creation of new positions within the organization, and the staffing of those positions with persons who are bona-fide experts in their respective fields;

  • The launch of a brand-new, state-of-the-art website; and

  • The commencement of a first-of-its-kind academic study treating the short- and long-term impact of small, emergency grants on the financial stability of the low-income individuals and households that Modest Needs exists to serve.

Leadership Matters: Rebuilding Our Board of Directors

From its inception, Modest Needs was designed to utilize a unique operational model - the creation of a national non-profit organization Modest Needs designed by 'regular' people, for 'regular' people, and overseen / operated by people whose most important qualifying criteria were a passion for service and dedication to Modest Needs' unique mission.

For years, this formula worked well, and from 2002 to 2012, Modest Needs grew from an organization with an annual budget of less than $10,000.00 / year and a goal of helping one or two people each month to an organization with an annual budget of between $1.75 and $2.1 million capable of helping thousands of hard-working, low-income households to shoulder the burden of short-term emergencies every year. For the service of those persons who have served on our board during our critical first eight years, of course, we are extremely grateful. Modest Needs would not have become the organization that it is today had it not been for their guidance and wisdom.

However, an important part of 'wisdom' - and the tangible proof that our board members care deeply for the success of the organization - is the ability to know when the time for change has come. And for Modest Needs, that time came in late 2010, as our Board of Directors recognized that in order for the organization to continue to grow, one by one, they would need to step aside in the interest of reconstituting our Board of Directors with persons more qualified to lead the organization from its period of 'infancy' and into a long-term period of sustained growth.

To this end, Modest Needs spent the majority of 2011 and 2012 working to identify, interview, and recruit a brand-new Board of Directors. During this process, we sought out persons who were experts in the fields most critical to Modest Needs' long-term growth - finance, law, public relations, and organizational management for example - and who were as dedicated to Modest Needs' unique mission as our previous directors has been.

The reconstitution of an organizations' Board of Directors must be, by necessity, a long-term and difficult process, as it is critically important to the long-term success of an organization that its directorship be carefully selected. However, by the conclusion of 2012, Modest Needs had put into place a new Board of Directors whose membership includes for example, the president of a bank, a partner at one of the most prestigious law firms in the world, and an expert in business management and finance who, in his professional life, has dedicated himself to supporting tenant's rights. By the end of 2012, the transition was completed, and Modest Needs now has in place a extremely strong, five-member board. Our goal is to increase Board Membership to seven by 2014 and to nine by 2016.

We are extremely pleased to welcome these persons to the Modest Needs family and are confident that these persons will provide the leadership, guidance, and oversight that will position Modest Needs to enter a period of long-term growth, the likes of which we haven't seen since our launch more than ten years ago.

The Only 'I' in Team is 'Investment': Restaffing Modest Needs

Most people who contact Modest Needs - donors, applicants, you name it - are often surprised to learn that, despite our national reach, Modest Needs has long been staffed by an extremely small number of people. In fact, for years - and especially since the onset of the recession in earnest - Modest Needs has carried out its work with a 'skeleton crew' of extremely dedicated but (often) equally overworked group of no more than five persons at a time - an administrative assistant (the 'oil' who keeps the Modest Needs machine running smoothly), two or three Client Advocacy Specialists (these persons are responsible for working directly with applicants to process and perform due diligence on their applications), and the President of the organization, who historically has worked for 60+ hours per week doing absolutely everything else.

The 'skeleton' staffing Modest Needs was certainly not by choice. The effect of the rescission on Modest Needs necessitated, not only a very small team, but a team of people we could afford. And while many of these persons have done excellent work for the organization and its applicants, the fact remains that these persons were not 'specialists' in the areas in which they worked and not particularly well paid. For this reason especially, for many years, turnover at Modest Needs was quite high and hindered the long-term growth of the organization.

In late 2011 / early 2012, Modest Needs' Board wisely recognized that, in order for the organization to grow, we simply were going to have to invest in a larger, more experienced, more diverse staff - people who could bring their exceptional experience in their fields of expertise to Modest Needs in the interest of organizational innovation. To that end, throughout 2011 and 2012, as persons employed by Modest Needs resigned their positions to pursue other employment, we worked to replace these former staff members with a highly-diversified, highly-experienced team. This involved a significant investment in human resources, of course, which was funded in part by the President's decision to voluntarily take a significant pay cut in the interest of Modest Needs' ongoing success.

By the end of 2012, Modest Needs had increased the size of its staff from an average of four persons at a time to an average of eight persons at a time. And what a remarkable team we assembled! For example, in addition to excellent Client Advocacy Specialists and an Administrative Assistant who is herself on the verge of obtaining an MSW degree, Modest Needs now employs:

  • A 'Director of Programs' who, aside from being an attorney, comes to us via the United Nations, where her job involved traveling all over the world and convincing countries who were not inclined to comply with UN initiatives to fully implement those programs. Her expertise in program assessment and development simply cannot be understated;

  • A 'Director of Marketing and Community Outreach' - a first for Modest Needs - who, aside from being an expert in the user experience and online marketing, has, in the past, overseen the online presence and marketing of major brands like Gymboree, and who is perhaps most well known for taking 'Stacy's Pita Chips' from a small, home-based operation to the point that the company was eventually sold to Frito Lay for millions upon millions of dollars;

  • A Director of Development whose 30+ years of experience in the non-profit industry includes, for example, acting as the Associate Executive Director and Director of Development for The Girl Scouts of America; and

  • A 'Director of Communications' who, aside from being an excellent writer in her own right and a preeminent voice on the issue of autism has, in the past, has written for organizations along the lines of the Associated Press and CNN.

It is impossible to overstate the importance of these hires, which have enhanced everything from Modest Needs' social media presence (now an important avenue for online fundraising) to the types of grants we offer, to the way in which our grant programs are administered, with an eye towards ensuring that the persons in the greatest need receive the help they've requested in the most timely manner possible. These hires have made Modest Needs a more efficient, more responsible organization and, in tandem with our new Board of Directors, have positioned the organization to enter a sustained period of long-term growth in its grant making capacity. And speaking personally, I could not be any more proud to work with this extraordinary team. They have been, and remain, a constant source of inspiration.

A Long-Term Project Ends and Begins: Modest Needs Launches a New, State-of-the-Art Website

As an online organization, Modest Needs' most important asset is easily its website. Modest Needs' website is not merely the 'public face' of the organization. It is the portal by which persons are able to apply for help, make contributions, and interact with the Modest Needs team quickly and easily on a 24x7x365 basis. In short, the quality and quantity of the work that Modest Needs can perform is directly related to the quality and user-friendliness of its website. It's just that simple.

In 2010, after years of complaints about the appearance and usability of Modest Needs' website (as well as analytics which showed that we were losing hundreds of potential donors and applicants each week simply because they couldn't figure out to use Modest Needs' original website), Modest Needs' Board of Directors approved a three-year project to completely rebuild Modest Needs' website from scratch. This long term project was among the most challenging we've ever undertaken; it required the work of a project manager, an artist, a usability specialist, a photographer, two systems analysts, and - depending on the phase of the project - as many as ten developers working, in some cases, full-time, seven days a week, to complete the rebuild of Modest Needs' website in time for its schedule launch date - Modest Needs' tenth anniversary.

On 21 March 2012 - Modest Needs' 10th Anniversary - Modest Needs launched its new website, and the results were better than we had ever dreamed might be possible. hoped. The quality of applications we received from across the country increased dramatically, as did the quantity of contributions to Modest Needs. In the end, as a direct result of the launch of the Modest Needs website, from March 2012 until approximately October 2012, Modest Needs was able to fully fund 100% of the qualified requests for assistance we received. And what's more, we were very proud to learn, late in 2012, that our new website had actually been awarded a 'Webby' in recognition of excellence in website communication and design!

Of course, even though our new website has long been up and running, the web design project itself is far from over. Already, we've discovered issues in the original redesign that are still hindrances to donors and applicants, and thanks to our new team, we are constantly working to revise the site so as to make it more user-friendly and more accessible to donors and applicants alike. For this reason, we have some exciting enhancements to the website under development and scheduled for launch in 2013 and 2014. But even though it looks as if this project may never actually end (this is nature of innovation), we could not be more pleased so far with the results of this costly but extremely necessary (and very successful) project.

The Million-Dollar Question: How Much Good are We Doing, and How Can We Do Even More?

If you follow trends in the non-profit industry, then you already know that, especially in the past couple of years, the leaders in this industry have placed new emphasis on how we might measure the 'effectiveness' of the programs offered by an organization. The question non-profit leaders are now encouraging potential donors to ask of organizations they're considering supporting is no longer, for example, "How much of its budget did an organization spend on 'programs,'" but "How effective is this organization when it comes to achieving long-term, positive change with respect to the organization's charitable mission?"

We're very proud to report that when it comes to the question of 'organizational effectiveness,' again, Modest Needs is 'ahead of the curve.' Of course, we've long known that Modest Needs' programs are extremely effective, but most of the 'evidence' that our programs are effective is what we'd call 'anecdotal'; it comes in the form of the testimonials posted via our website and the letters and phone calls we receive from people we've helped - sometimes years after the fact - just to tell us that the help our donors were able to offer them literally changed their lives.

When it comes to measuring organizational effectiveness, there are two problems with 'evidence' of this type: it isn't backed up by hard evidence (read: data) and doesn't tell us anything about what happened to those persons we were not able to reach? Did they lose their homes, their jobs? Did they get help elsewhere? Is there anything more we could've done (or something we might've done differently) to reach these persons? The truth is, to date, we simply haven't known the answers to these critical questions - questions we must answer in order to ensure that Modest Needs' programs are as impactful as possible.

With these goals in mind, and even before the question of organizational effectiveness was being asked publicly or in earnest, Modest Needs had obtained the funding to undertake a first-of-its-kind Impact Study. The goals of this study is to teach us (and members of the general public), once and for all, a) the long-term effect of small grants made to persons in short-term financial crisis (believe it or not, no such study has ever actually been attempted in earnest); b) how effective Modest Needs' grants actually are in promoting long-term self-sufficiency to the persons whom we assist via reference to hard data; and c) what changes Modest Needs itself needs to make in order to ensure that we meet our goal of promoting long-term, positive change in the lives of our applicants - hard-working, low-income persons struggling to remain self-sufficient.

'Impact Studies' of this kind are no small task; they often take years to complete. However, in this case, we have the privilege of working with an analyst / statistician from Princeton who has, over the past two years, created, distributed, and compiled data from surveys we've sent to thousands upon thousands of our former applicants - both those we were able to help, and those we were unable to reach. By late 2013, we expect to have the first usable data generated from this Impact Study, which we will make public as soon as we receive it. At that time, we will begin working to 'scale up' Modest Needs so as to ensure that we can enhance our grant making capacity so as to have the greatest, long-term impact on the persons whom we exist to serve.

In Closing - A Personal Note

I want to take this opportunity both to thank you very much or taking the time to read our 2011-2012 annual report and to personally apologize for the length of time it has taken to post our annual reports for 2011 and 2012. If you've been following Modest Needs for any length of time, you know this delay is uncharacteristic of us, but this time around, we have a very good reason for having taken so long to post these annual reports.

An essential part of every annual report is the publication of our financial data - especially our annual audit and Form 990 for the year under consideration. As it turns out, our 2011 audit was (at our request) so thorough that it took from May 2012 until January 2013 to complete. Thus, the very earliest we could've published our 2011 annual report was January 2013, and that's what we'd intended to do.

However, by the time we had the financial data that would allow us to publish our 2011 annual report we were in the middle of administering the most successful (and most difficult) 'special program' we've ever undertaken - an extraordinary, two-phase 'Hurricane Relief' program designed to provide a unique type of assistance to persons whose lives had been substantially impacted by Superstorm Sandy (more on this in our 2013 annual report).

In the end, we simply underestimated the demand for the services we'd be offering - particularly towards the beginning of the year - or how difficult this program would be to properly administer. Bottom line: in the course of working to get help to as many qualified applicants under this and our other grant programs, the 2011 annual report fell further and further behind - so far behind, in fact, that finally, it made more sense to combine our 2011 and 2012 annual reports, which we will update to include 2012 financial data as soon as our 2012 audit is complete (mid-September of this year).

While I know that, under the circumstances, the lateness of this report is probably understandable to most people, it has never been Modest Needs' habit to run this late in the publication of an annual report. I genuinely appreciate the patience of all concerned while we worked to create the most informative report possible while managing a very time-intensive grant program and would like to thank you, as always, for your ongoing and generous support of this very important work.

--Dr. Keith P. Taylor, President / Executive Director, Modest Needs Foundation (8 August 2013)


2011 Financial Information at a Glance

Income and Expense Categories Amount
Income from Direct Public Support $2,146,468.00
Other Program Service Income $0.00
Other Income $0.00
Total 2011 Income $2,146,468.00
Program Service Expenses (94.47%) $1,302,639.00
Management / Administrative Expenses (4.01%) $55,338.00
Fundraising Expenses (1.65%) $22,858.00
Total 2011 Expenses $1,378,835.00
Net Assets & Fund Balances, Beginning of Year $511,522.00
Net Assets & Fund Balances, End of Year $1,487,333.00

You may view a breakdown of the functional expenses listed above by accessing either our FY 2011 Form 990 or our 2011 Independent Auditor's Report. Links to both in PDF Format are below.

Notes Concerning 2011 Fund Balances and Net Assets

In 2011, Modest Needs' Net Assets and Fund Balances increased very substantially. The reasons for the increase were a) that, per GAAP, ongoing work on Modest Needs' new website in 2011 was amortized; and b) in the final weeks of 2011, Modest Needs received some significant major gifts that were pledged in 2011, but which Modest Needs did not actually receive until 2012.

We mention this because, even though it looks as if we didn't spend nearly as much money as we raised in 2011, the fact of the matter is that when we subtract from our fund balances pledges that were made in 2011 but not received until 2012, we spent approximately 95% of funding raised in 2011 on Modest Needs' programs and major projects (our multi-year website development project, for example).

Supporting Financial Documents for 2011

Please note: all documents below are in PDF format and can be viewed via the free Adobe Acrobat Reader.

2012 Financial Information at a Glance

Income and Expense Categories Amount
Income from Direct Public Support $1,780,459.00
Other Program Service Income $0.00
Other Income $192.00
Total 2012 Income $1,780,651.00
Program Service Expenses (90.01%) $1,358,811.00
Management / Administrative Expenses (4.73%) $71,346.00
Fundraising Expenses (5.26%) $79,373.00
Total 2012 Expenses $1.509,530.00
Net Assets & Fund Balances, Beginning of Year $1,487,333.00
Net Assets & Fund Balances, End of Year $1,601,801.00

You may view a breakdown of the functional expenses listed above by accessing either our FY 2012 Form 990 or our 2012 Independent Auditor's Report. Links to both in PDF Format are below.

Supporting Financial Documents for 2012

Please note: all documents below are in PDF format and can be viewed via the free Adobe Acrobat Reader.

Notes Concerning 2012 Program Service Activities

We are extremely proud to report that in 2012, largely as a result of the launch of our new website in mid-March 2012, Modest Needs was able to fund fully 94% of the qualified applications for assistance we received.

Considering that, prior to 2012, Modest Needs had been able to fund, on average, between 50% and 65% of the qualified applications we received in any given year, this milestone represents a huge step forward, not merely for the organization, but for our donors and applicants. We could not be more proud of this achievement and look forward to the year when, finally, we are able to announce that we've been able to assist fully 100% of the qualified persons who applied for assistance from Modest Needs.

Would you like a hard copy of our finalized 2011-2012 Annual Report?

If you do not have regular internet access but would like to receive a hard copy of the Annual Report above, along with accompanying materials, please send your request to:

Modest Needs Foundation
115 E 30th St, FL 1
New York NY 10016
Attn: Sandra Sbar, Director of Development

We will provide a hard-copy of our 2011 - 2012 annual report as soon as we've received our 2012 Financial Documents and updated this report appropriately.

Alternatively, you may request a hard copy of this report by calling Sandra Sbar, Director of Development, at (212) 463-7042, x115.