Supporting Community Development Charities

Community development is the process of drawing on the expertise and experience of a community’s own members to achieve through collective action the goals of that community. This broad concept can be applied to various aspects of communities, including fighting homelessness and providing services, as well as advocating to improve local housing affordability, transportation options, jobs, schools, and the social fabric.

There are many different charities in the United States focused on community improvement with focuses on:

  • Affordable Housing
  • Economic Development
  • Transportation
  • Community Building

These charities develop programs that fight to meet the needs of low and moderate-income families.  Through research and collective action, they bring about positive changes for those who might not otherwise have much influence in public policy.

This work is especially important today, when poverty levels are high and the majority of the wealth in this country is concentrated in the top 1%. People are struggling to find jobs that allow them to support their families and keep a roof over their heads. 

Community development programs exist to help create economic and government policy that offers an entrepreneurial solution to poverty. They attempt to direct government resources where they are needed most, through lobbying efforts and collective action campaigns. Often, without this assistance, families struggle paycheck to paycheck and can be on the verge of homelessness. 

These programs study the causes of poverty and focus on creating actionable and affordable solutions to help more people prosper in the near term and to break the cycle of poverty for future generations. 

Poverty is frequently a generational curse. It’s hard to dig yourself out without the educational advantages provided to students who go to better schools in more affluent communities. Community development charities help level the playing field  so that everyone can have access to opportunities to earn a living and have a purposeful life.

These programs help improve the odds of everyday people to rise above their challenges and transform their lives. A proper community development plan has a far-reaching impact on people who are struggling in the current economic situation – whether it be a child who is struggling in the school system or an adult who is having difficulty maintaining steady employment.

With desirable outcomes and incentives, community development programs use data-driven approaches to create strategic plans for development that allow them to achieve their vision. Their approaches are based on empirical evidence.

Many charities rely on volunteerism to achieve their goals. For example, there are people that volunteer every year to help out with voter education and registration. By spending your time helping people register to vote and educating them about candidates and proposals, you can have more of an impact on the legislative process than through your vote alone.

But these organizations also rely heavily on donations from individuals that want to help others. By giving a monetary donation, you can do so much more for your neighbors. Read on to learn how your dollar can have a positive impact on your community.

Affordable Housing

There are many different strategies that governments and local organizations use to keep housing affordable in an area. When housing costs are too high, it can lead to households being unable to afford other necessities, such as food, healthcare and transportation. Forgoing any one of these necessities usually exacerbates poverty. 

Historically, experts have recommended households spend less than 30% of their income on housing costs. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, there is a national shortage of 7 million affordable and available rental homes at or below 30% of Area Median Income. 

Housing voucher programs can help by enabling low-income families to move into units they could not otherwise afford to rent. To make this possible, local housing authorities issue monthly checks to participating landlords to help qualified tenants close the gap between their income and the going market rate for an apartment. To keep such programs in place, affordable housing organizations continue to advocate for funding and availability.

Other organizations provide housing for specific groups of people, like those with special needs, mental illness or an addiction issues. Although the Social Security Administration offers disability payments, often people who have high medical expenses still have trouble paying for housing. These charities help by subsidizing the costs.

Portrait Of Excited Man Standing Outside New Home With Sold Sign

Affordable Homeownership

Other charities focus on encouraging affordable homeownership. For first time homebuyers, housing counseling agencies, like the Northwest Side Housing Center, provide education on the homebuying process, including how to avoid predatory lending and obtain affordable mortgage loans. Other organizations, like Housing Action Illinois, work behind the scenes to provide training for housing counselors and to advocate on a range of issues affecting affordable home ownership.

When people purchase a home in their community, it encourages them to invest in its upkeep and the upkeep of their community. Homeowners might be considered to have a vested interest and so will work harder to maintain the appearance and the value of their property and its surroundings.

Charities like the Chicago Community Loan Fund provide low-interest loans to housing developers building in disinvested communities. The purpose of the loans is to meet needs that the marketplace has failed to meet. These loans can help fund the building of  housing co-ops, commercial facilities like grocery stores in food deserts and community centers.

Other  organizations assist people in taking the first step toward economic freedom by helping them find a mortgage loan from a bank, creating  first-time homeowners who are now invested, and likely more involved, in the community. Homeownership doesn’t just help one person become empowered. It can have a generational impact that benefits today’s community, while providing stability for future growth. 

These homeowners may also go on to open a business in the community. And their property taxes will go towards the funding of improving the local schools. By creating responsible and affordable homeownership, these charities are building lasting communities. 

Housing Co-Ops 

Housing co-ops offer a  way to begin to take ownership of a primary residence. It’s a more affordable way to buy property than traditional purchasing. 

Rather than buying a house or renting a space, a housing co-op allows you to purchase a portion of the deed to your property. As a shareholder, you have exclusive use of your portion of the dwelling and the ability to sell your ownership share.

One thing that makes housing co-ops a great option for affordable housing is that you don’t have to take out a traditional mortgage. Instead, you take out a share-loan for the cost of your portion of the building, making such loans easier to get for many applicants. 

And if something goes wrong with the property, like the air conditioning breaking or the roof needing to be replaced, there is typically a fund that the co-op maintains, that all residents pay into monthly. This can be very helpful if you’re not used to paying for home repairs.

Another benefit is that, as a co-op shareholder,, you are entitled to all of the same tax benefits as homeowners. You can deduct your loan interest and real estate taxes.

The rules for buying into a co-op are generally set by the other owners. New buyers may be required to have a certain debt-to-income ratio in order to buy in. 

One type, the  limited-equity co-op, is built specifically to provide affordable housing. Another type is not built for affordability, but  to enable only individuals with a specific shared interest to live together. For example, artistic co-ops are for people who want to pursue art projects. 

economic development

Economic Development

Economic development charities play an important role in maintaining and improving the health of the  local economy. When an area becomes economically stagnant, they step in. They also work in areas that are thriving, helping them continue to flourish. They devise strategies for  solutions to foster growth, often with the help of governments and local businesses. 

Whether implementing programs that encourage the formation of new businesses  or helping communities whose healthy existence is dependent on corporations choosing to open a branch or store there, tax incentives are a commonly used tool for economic development.  It is also important to monitor what businesses are opening and closing in an area, enabling targeted effort to grow the workforce through more job opportunities and workforce retraining. 

An important component of economic development is Workforce Development. Making sure that people living in an area are equipped for the current and future needs of employers in that area is good for both employers and the area’s residents who need employment. The Chicago Jobs Council (CJC) is an example of an organization meeting these needs and providing disadvantaged people with job training and paths to more prosperous futures. They do so by hosting networking workshops, access to mentorship, Workforce 360 meetings and also by helping their clients use the free job-finding resource Accion Chicago, which provides training and loans for entrepreneurs in low-wealth neighborhoods, is another example of an economic development organization. 

bikes and public transportation


Depending on what community you are a part of, you are more or less likely to have good or any public transportation available to you. In communities where there is a lack of availability, often people establish transportation-related nonprofits. 

For people who aren’t able to or can’t afford to drive, these charities can help you get to a doctor’s appointment if you’re disabled, take you to get your medical prescriptions and to get groceries and supplies. Many such organizations are run by volunteers who drive residents  between their homes and their appointments, using donated vehicles. 

These charities don’t just help you catch a ride. Nonprofit transportation organizations, such as the Active Transportation Alliance (ATA), also advocate for walkers and bicyclists and for improvements in public transportation, including  increased service in certain areas and handicap accessibility.

Without the important work of organizations like ATA, transportation infrastructure in many cities would be even more biased toward individual drivers, rather than working to promote walking, biking and public transit.

These organizations put on events to publicize biking on the roadways and encourage children to make smart transportation decisions in the future. They foster the development of more bike lanes, better transit services and safer walking and biking conditions.

Examples of other things that transportation advocacy organizations do include:  

  • Ensuring racial equality in the enforcement of biking laws;
  • Reporting trends in bike and pedestrian injuries and fatalities;
  • Improving access to public bike sharing;  
  • Increasing the number of miles of protected bike lanes; 
  • Advocating for lower fares for public transit; and
  • Advocating for equitable spending on transit, bike and pedestrian infrastructure. 

Other transportation charities might specialize in long-distance travel, like airline and helicopter trips. There are nonprofits that fly people who are suffering from a disease or other medical condition to another location to seek treatment. Some of these organizations specialize in flying veterans to their surgeries. Others are dedicated to evacuating people and pets during natural disasters. 

By donating to one of these organizations, you could help someone in their most desperate time of need. 

community building

Community Building

One way communities become more resilient is by strengthening their social fabric – the myriad relationships throughout their community. Community building activities encourage neighborhood relationships and take place when community members come together for social events, sporting events, public meetings and casual interactions, like those that happen at the grocery store. When a neighborhood comes together, it’s a happier and safer place for people to live, work and play. 

One great way some nonprofits bring their communities together is by performing home improvement projects for people who don’t have the skills or resources. In every community, there are disabled and elderly people who can’t do everything they need to do to keep up with their homes. They might end up living in poor conditions for a long time before anyone even notices. 

With the help of a community building event, like the ones organized by Westcore Neighbors, everyone can get involved to help them. They can paint houses, lay flooring, perform gardening tasks and replace roofing. 

Projects might include helping improve housing for low-income renters and homeowners, setting up meetings to talk about community safety, beautifying the neighborhood by picking up trash and debris, organizing youth activities, and creating book clubs and other groups that meet periodically.

By donating to a community building charity, you invest in bringing your neighbors together to do good for one another.

Do You Want to Help Community Development Charities Revitalize Our Neighborhoods?

If you have a passion for your community and want to help revitalize your neighborhood, getting involved with community development is a great way to spend your time and money. 

Financial support is always helpful, but the investment of time and talent that can also pay dividends for you and the community. A large part of community development starts with being present and meeting the people around you. 

All of these organizations depend on some private donations in order to complete their projects on time. In addition to supplies, funding is needed for staff salaries, administrative costs and for the costs of programs such as community meetings, outreach and community building events. Consider donating to and/or volunteering for a community development charity today.

Learn how to support your charity today.

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