Opinion: When the Economy Gets Tougher, Philanthropy to Sights for Hope Becomes Even Smarter


This commentary is by Dennis Zehner, Executive Director and CEO of Sights for Hope.

When one becomes a fundraiser or an Executive Director, they also become an amateur economist. They spend more time watching financial news programs and they come to understand all too well that topics like gas prices, inflation, stock market indexes, and interest rates have broad impacts on philanthropy. Approximately 40% of the revenue to operate Sights for Hope each year comes in philanthropic forms – including private donations, private grants, and event revenue.

Having worked in the nonprofit field during the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the great recession of 2008-2009, and the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic, I know first-hand that many philanthropic people and organizations tend to decrease their support instinctively when there is a sign of economic difficultly. While this trend has not appeared statistically yet during this current downturn, there is reason to believe that it will in the near future.

When times get tough, one can do the same thing, do less of that thing, stop doing that thing completely, or do that thing more smartly. In a tightening economy, it is exceptionally important for philanthropists to make the most efficient use of the contributions they make. A gift to Sights for Hope is one of the smartest gifts that one can make because we generate verifiable, real-world results with tremendous efficiency.

One guided transport ride cost Sights for Hope $74 in 2021-2022 – including vehicle costs, fuel, and personnel. With that one transport, a client who has cancer, lives alone, and has no close relatives or friends who can drive them can receive a treatment that makes the difference between life and death. Literally.

That same $74 can mean the difference between a senior with a visual impairment or blindness going hungry or accessing nutritious foods. Literally. A recent news story talked of escalating use of food banks. Without transportation, some people will not even make it to one.

One counseling session with an experienced specialist who also lives with a visual impairment cost Sights for Hope approximately $57 last year. For someone who just lost most of their sight and is frightened, that skillful ear of someone who faces the same challenges may mean the difference between progress toward acceptance and the most frightening and dire results of depression.

A powerful hand-held magnifier can cost less than $200. That magnifier to a Sights for Hope client an make the difference between cooking for themselves, paying their bills, and taking the right dosage of medication and being hungry, foreclosed upon, and sick or dead from an overdose.

A vision screening for a child ages 0-6 cost Sights for Hope $15 last year. That $15 screening can make the difference between saving their eyesight and decades of darkness, between placement in special education unnecessarily or making the honor roll, between going to college and dropping out of high school. An eye exam and a pair of glasses for a child costs approximately $130. For a parent of a child found to have a problem from one of our screenings and does not have vision insurance, that $130 also can ensure that these same differences are available to underserved communities.

These are a few examples which shown that a contribution to Sights for Hope is one of the smartest a philanthropist can make to be sure that they are creating an impact.

With our client population growing by 14% last year, with some physicians sounding the alarm about the effects of extended screen time on children’s eyes, and with the senior population growing rapidly, now is absolutely not the time to reduce or curtail support for Sights for Hope. In fact, it is the time for philanthropists to more of their valued resources into something that is sure to make a difference in which they can be proud.

When times get tough, one can do the same thing, do less of that thing, stop doing that thing completely, or do that thing more smartly. At this tough time, Sights for Hope offers that fourth option for those with a love of humanity that remains as strong as ever.

Dennis Zehner can be reached at 610.433.6018, Ext. 241, or at dennis@sightsforhope.org. Click here to donate to Sights for Hope today.

Image: Photo of several $100 bills.