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Updated on Friday, December 4, 2015
Getting a grant to help pay your bills from perfect strangers sounds too good to be true. Could having someone else handle your unexpected medical bill or car repair costs really be as easy as submitting an application that explains why, even though you’re employed and making money, you don’t have the cash to pay for your bill yourself? Could a charitable donation made online to a stranger really be put to its intended use and skimmed off the top by a bloated company?
With Modest Needs, it seems receiving help or donating to those in need is just that simple. The organization makes grants to people who genuinely need a helping hand during hard financial times. It ensures money from donors goes toward empowering those in need.
What Is Modest Needs?
Modest Needs, also known as modestneeds.org, is a nonprofit organization founded in 2002. The charity aims to provide financial assistance to low-income individuals and families, with the goal of preventing these people from slipping into poverty.
Everything began as the personal project of Nashville, Tennessee resident Keith Taylor. Taylor made his charitable work very personal; he saved part of his own salary each month to give away to those in need. After launching the site to connect with people who needed help – and people who wanted to financially contribute to others – the project snowballed.
Today, Modest Needs assists “low-income workers who are struggling to shoulder the burden of a short-term emergency expense.” The main type of assistance they provide is called a Self-Sufficiency Grant. These funds are given as grants, not loans, meaning the money does not need to be repaid by recipients.
Self-Sufficiency Grants are intended to help people who work and earn an income, but live just above the poverty level and are therefore unable to take advantage of any social assistance programs. These people may be just one paycheck away from financial disaster, and that’s where a grant can help.
Grants are generally made to people who are facing a financial emergency that they cannot afford, or who cannot afford to pay a monthly bill because of a legitimate extenuating circumstance.
How Grants Are Made
Modest Needs requires an application if you hope to receive one of their grants. Applicants must provide proof of income (to ensure they actually need financial assistance) and need to explain the crisis they’re facing that prompted them to ask for help. The organization advises setting aside a half hour to 45 minutes to complete the full application.
Some of the group’s other requirements include having at least one employed adult in the household. In addition, the main source of income for household must come from earnings via employment, child support payments, Veteran’s Benefits, or retirement income. The size of the grant depends on the applicant’s income.
Finally, applications that receive funding are required to write a thank you note to Modest Needs. Donors may opt in to receiving a copy of that note from applicants, as well.
By law, Modest Needs cannot grant funds for expenses including taxes, past-due child support, or fines and fees associated with civil or criminal offenses. As a matter of policy, the group will not provide grants for things like credit card debt or “luxury” goods or services.
If you’re interested in applying for a grant with Modest Needs, then you can find out more information here.
Once an application goes live on the site, donors are then given the ability to vote on which grants should be funded. Donors get a vote by making a contribution to Modest Needs. A donor gets a vote (referred to as a point) for each dollar contributed. If you decided to donate $50, then you could put all 50 points towards one cause or spread them around. The points are reflected with a progress bar the following statement: “$ [total voted] has already been given to Modest Needs by donors who’ve recommended this application for funding.”
However, there is actually one catch. A request needs to be fully funded in order for the recipient to get the money. Modest Needs does not provide partial payment on grants.
For example, Sally needs $1,200 to get her roof repaired but donors only received $800 by the due date, she would not receive the $800.
Information for Donors
Modest Needs is a registered 501(c)(3) (tax exempt) organization (Federal ID #47-0863430). Contribution you make, if you’re a U.S. donor, is tax deductible.
Note that when you do make a donation, you’re not directly and immediately funding the application you entered a dollar amount for. Your donation goes to Modest Needs itself, along with a recommendation of which application you want to see funded. The organization has the final say-so in what applicants receive grants.
Modest Needs requires an application be “fully funded” before executing any grants. If the application you recommended for funding does not reach 100%, your donation is returned to your account and you have the option to recommend (vote for) another applicant with the money you contributed.
Legitimate Help for Those in Need
Donors should be able to rest assured that they’re giving to legitimate causes when they fund an applicant on the platform, and donations are tax-deductible. There are no minimum contributions.
When it comes to the applicants on the website, Modest Needs screens individuals to make sure requests are real and legitimate. They also have staff that perform the necessary due diligence and research into each application. Grants are never made in cash; instead, payments are remitted directly to a vendor or creditor on behalf of the applicant.
Modest Needs is a registered nonprofit with the IRS and with the state of New York. Watchdog site Charity Navigator gives the organization a 3 out of 4 star rating and garnered high praise in reviews on GuideStar. The nonprofit also meets the standards set by Give.org.
You can view financial reports from 2005 to 2012, and you can request hardcopies of this information through the website as well. Finding information from frequently asked questions to mailing and email addresses is easy, and it seems the group strives for transparency.
Giving More than a Handout
With the proliferation of personal pleas for assistance on crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe, Modest Needs stands out as a refreshing alternative. Anyone can go on crowdfunding platforms and ask for handouts, with the onus of responsible giving placed on the general public. People asking for funding are under no obligation to use the cash in a particular way; there are no requirements for funded projects after they’ve received money.
Modest Needs, on the other hand, was started and designed as a charity and giving responsibly is ingrained in its stated missions. The organization specifically focuses on helping those who are working and just above poverty level – meaning they’re often making enough to disqualify them from government assistance programs, but making too little to handle a financial emergency.
Some current applications for grants include a Wisconsin woman who lives independently and maintains a job as a housekeeping and laundry attendant, and needs to repair her car* so she can continue commuting to work. Another is from an elderly vet who needs new tires on his car to drive safely through the Colorado winter, while a teacher in Texas needs help to pay an unexpected medical bill.
The requests range in size from large to small – one woman works two jobs to pay all her expenses, but cannot afford to repair her broken washing machine – but all are similar in the fact that they come from working individuals who can cover their regular monthly expenses, but live paycheck to paycheck and struggle to come up with funds for unexpected or emergency costs. You can browse other requests here.
Modest Needs uses donations to fund these types of grants so lower-income, employed individuals can continue on with their lives and avoid having one random, unexpected expense push them into a cycle of poverty that they cannot break.
*Kali Hawlk decided to personally donate to this cause after writing this review.