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Community Chest Spending Circa 1941

How the Chests Spend the Money

By ALLEN T.  BURNS, Executive Vice-President and BRADLEY BUELL, Field Director, Community Chests and Councils, Inc

An Article from The Survey Midmonthly, September, 1941 (pp. 256-259)

COLLECTING, spending.  Throughout the quarter century of Community Chest history, these responsibilities have been Siamese twins guiding the contributor’s dollar through its philanthropic paces.

In the early days, some Chests held that they were merely collection agencies; that quality of service, efficiency of administration, duplication and coordination, were agency responsibilities and not the business of the Chest.  But logic has been inexorable.  People give their money to a Community Chest.  The notion that the Chest could divorce itself completely from responsibility for what happened to the money never has gone down anywhere.  The public has been concerned with the spending no less than with the collecting of Chest funds.  From the simple matter of competent financial accounting to more general questions of administration; from obvious overlapping and duplication of services to broader issues of relationship between public and private service; from concern about the practices of the individual agency to total community planning, the horizons of the Chests have widened steadily.

The responsibilities assumed by Chests have been neither administrative nor authoritative.  Even in the most highly organized communities the boards and management of the social agencies remain as autonomous as they were before the establishment of the Chest.  Their continued participation in the Chest is still a voluntary decision.  At the same time the development of certain simple but significant procedures, with both the Chest and the member agencies participating, has provided the yest for a steady process of improvement in community service.

The kernel of the process is in the fact that each year each agency presents to the Chest not merely a request for funds, but a budget initially approved by its own board of directors.  The Chest, in determining the sum to be allocated to the agency, must approve that budget.  This starts an ever-widening circle of “conferencing,” fact gathering, and broad-gauged planning, as well as the argument and debate which are the natural concomitants of adjustment between general and particular interests.

Uniformly, Chest boards delegate primary responsibility for this process to a budget committee which the member agencies usually have a voice in nominating or selecting.  On these budget committees all over the country are competent men and women who spend long hours studying data, conferring with agency representatives, and visiting agency work, first-hand.  Cities as large as Cleveland, Washington, or St.  Louis have budget secretaries who put in full time on problems of agency operation and finances.  In smaller cities, the professional staff collects service data and makes special studies for this committee.  Indeed jealous as the Chests are of low administrative costs they gradually are discovering long-run economy in systematic fact-finding and practical research, usually through the direction and planning of Councils of Social Agencies in the field in which their agencies are rendering service.

IN ALL, COMMUNITY CHESTS ANNUALLY APPROPRIATE between $80,000,000 and $90,000,000 to agencies whose total budgets are between two and three times that amount.  These budgets include the agencies’ earnings and other income.  Roughly speaking, about 25 percent of the Chest allocations is for families and adults who are dependent.  It covers such services as those rendered by family welfare societies, Catholic and Jewish welfare agencies, the Salvation Army, the Travelers Aid, and homes for the aged.  A little less than 20 percent goes for special services to children:  children’s aid societies, day nurseries, non-secratrian and denominational institutions for children.  Another 20 percent goes for health services:  hospitals and clinics, visiting nurse assocations, and a variety of special activities.  About 25 percent goes for leisure time:  the recreation and group work programs of the YM and YWCA, the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, boys’ club, settlements and the like.  Approximately 10 percent represents the cost of campaign, collection of pledges, Chest administration, and the year-round planning and educational programs of Councils of Social Agencies.

While almost everyone is generally familiar with such local agencies as these, too few are fully aware of how far the community depends for maintenance of its normal life upon the resources of the network of private agencies financed by its Community Chest.  The people of Dayton, Ohio, for example, were much surprised last summer when a survey showed that during the preceding twelve months nearly 40 percent of the 97,231 families of the city had received some service from Chest-financed agencies.

While the direct responsibility of the Chest begins with the annual study of the individual agency’s budget ends with an allocation of funds to the agency, the road between is long and increasingly intricate.  There are the inevitable questions of what the public or tax-supported agencies are doing; whether the distribution of funds between different types of services has a sound relation to the need for service.  These are not questions of theory.  They arise out of the joint agency and Chest consideration of budget items for personnel, for new service units, for relief or boarding home expenses, for repairs or new equipment for buildings.  From this practical necessity for decision has come an increasing need for more and more social facts to guide both Chest and agency in the determination of the amount of the allocation.

It is common knowledge that the volume, character, and organization of community service has changed markedly in these last ten years.  In 1930 the privately supported agencies carried a substantial proportion of relief to the unemployed, the unemployable, the aged, and other dependent groups.  There was no WPA, no federal age assistance or aid to the blind and to dependent children, non unemployment compensation or old age and survivors’ insurance.  Today, with public assistance established as a governmental responsibility, there is little justification for a private agency with relief as its primary function.

But at the same time there is a great need for service to families suffering from the drastic changes in economic fortune suffering from the drastic changes in economic fortune of this past decade- families with problems which, if not solved, may lead to broken homes, neglect of children, loss of morale and employability.  Community Chests and the agencies in the family field are still in the process at once of liquidating their relief function, which the government has taken over, and of developing skilled case work service which will contribute to the prevention of family breakdown.

So it is with the care of children.  Public support, both in institutions and foster homes, has become more and more available for those who must be cared for permanently outside their homes.  The federal aid to dependent children programs has reduced the number of children who must be separated from their own homes.  But children with behavior and adjustment problems continue to need skilled service, and short-time care often must be provided while family problems are being worked out.  So Community Chest budget committees are agency boards are working to transfer dependent children to tax-supported agencies and to provide better methods for early prevention of unstable personalities and behavior problems.

While not all Community Chests include hospitals among their members, the many that do are confronted with a complexity or problems.  Traditionally the voluntary hospital has used the profits form its full-pay patients to meet a substantial part of its expenditures for free care.  During the depression the sharp decrease in pay business, coinciding with lessened Chest income, had the effect in many communities of throwing this procedure completely out of gear.

Today hospitals, Community Chests, and local governments are struggling to develop sound communitywide plans for the provision of hospital care, not only for families on relief but for the marginal family which can meet its minimum needs for food, shelter and clothing, but cannot met the emergency costs of hospitalization.  The rapidly spreading insurance device of group hospitalization is meeting some of this problem, and more and more tax funds are taking over payment for both relief and more tax funds are taking over payment for both relief and so-called medically indigent cases.  Chest allocations to hospitals decreased slowly from 1934 to 1940, but showed a rise in 1941.

A HIGHER PROPORTION OF TOTAL COMMUNITY EXPENDITURES for leisure time and recreation is made by private agencies than in any other major field of community service.  In part, this is because the clientele of some of these agencies pay for most of the service they receive; in part, because funds for public recreation agencies, like those for the private leisure-time services, were seriously curtailed during the depths of the depression when relief was the number one priority.  But well organized and well administered public recreation departments are of long standing in this country; and with the passing of depression conditions their budgets and their personnel are being strengthened.

Thus the importance of clarifying the relationship between public and private responsibility in the leisure-time field is becoming increasing apparent.  Forward-looking private agencies realize that a good public recreation department can carry on many large scale activities as well as, or better, than they.  They have pressed for after hours activities in the schools and stimulated other public services.  But the supervision of boys and girls in smaller, self-determining groups, with constructive opportunities for the interplay of personalities under skilled leadership- another field in which private agencies have pioneered- is something which, generally speaking, public agencies are not yet equipped to handle.  Shifts and changes in this direction follow somewhat more slowly the trends already well established in family welfare, child care and health.

Because of this shifting scene, Chest leadership has been under undeniable stress and strain.  The task of allocating Chest funds intelligently is never ending and even more complicated.  Yet, in every “Chest community” of consequence, the social horizons of a growing group of lay men and women have been widened when public relief funds suddenly have given out and private agencies have faced emergency demands; when reduction of Chest allocations has bee necessary and common sense has demanded something sounder and more economical than a “percentage cut”; when community opinion has dedicated doing something about duplication of agency programs.

It long has been accepted fact that the same leaders who man a Community Chest campaign have to shoulder responsibility for the disaster campaigns of the Red Cross, for agency capital fund campaigns, and for such special appeals as the current USO drive.  It is now equally true that when a pubic welfare department needs a strong advisory or administrative committee, when the public recreation or public health program needs citizen backing or guidance, when the defense emergency demands service for new problems, the leaders most in demand are those with insight into the large problems of organizing community service.

Much of the leadership is functioning not merely through the practical budget work of Community Chest but through the broader planning machinery of Council Social Agencies.  With staff service and administrative expenses usually furnished by the Chests, these Councils include the tax-supported as well as private agencies.  Here is the vehicle through which community leadership is taking an over-all view of its total needs of the organization of its services.  Here is the source to which the Chest and its member agencies increasing are turning for the sound answers to questions that ultimately require administrative and financial implementation.

It can be said fairly that local leadership, under varying circumstances and in the varying degrees which are the attributes of community autonomy, has demonstrated its ability to meet the strains put upon it.  To the surprise of some early skeptics, central financing has proved an exceedingly flexible instrument.  This demonstrated by the fact that, among the 96 Chest supporting 2,556 agencies for which 1929 figures are available, 654 agencies were dropped from membership and 699 new agencies were added during the succeeding ten-year period, a change of approximately 50 percent.  The fear that central financing would “freeze” a rigid pattern of privately administered service thus has proved without foundation.  There have been instances where local Chests have tended to impinge on “the freedom of operation” of some member agencies but the progressive thrust of the movement as a whole has been affirmative and liberal.

There is ample evidence of positive and constructive leadership.  From 1929 to 1933, when the depression was reaching its depth and before the advent of federal relief programs, Chest appropriations to relief agencies went up 215 percent, while appropriations for all other types of service were decreased.  Just as rapidly, in 1934, after the federal programs were well under way, did relief appropriations decrease.  In 1941, leisure-time services for the first time nosed out relief and family service agencies as the principal recipients of Chest funds.

In the past decade, Chests and Councils of Social Agencies in more than ninety cities have initiated and paid for surveys of their communities, usually under the auspices of Community Chests and Councils, Inc.  While these have varied in scope and comprehensiveness, all have been designed to meet the pressing problems of the community against a background of a total program embracing all social services administered by public and private agencies.  Gratifyingly enough, relatively few of these surveys belong to that lost battalion of “expert” studies which gather dust on library shelves.

Besides surveys by qualified personnel from outside the community, vast numbers of special inquires have been made by Chests and Councils into their own community problems.  Subjects have ranged from studies of personal policies and practices in health agencies to the need for a marriage counseling service and the collection of data about Christmas giving.

Indeed, the road which Community Chests stake out when their early leaders established the principle that the sums allocated to agencies should be based on an approved budget has steadily become better defined.  The search of budget committees, council committees, and agency boards for greater wisdom in reaching their decisions has put vitality and reality into the effort to see the community whole to see the agency through the eyes of the community and not the community through the eyes of the agency.

A supervised reporting project of the U.  S.  Children’s Bureau which now gathers complete data on all social service expenditures and services, public and private, in a selected groups of cities, was started and originally financed by a group of Community Chest leaders.  These data are now available to all cities for purposes of comparison.

More recently, and growing directly out of survey experience, a medium for rating social breakdown has been developed as a means of point up and collecting data about problems of social maladjustment, towards the prevention of which so much of Chest-financed service now is directed.  Based on a count of the families annually involved in crime, delinquency, child neglect, divorce, mental disease, mental deficiency, and unemployability, this rate either has been or is being computed by upwards of twenty cities.  The communities experimenting with these procedures anticipate that their refinement will contribute to the prevention of social difficulty in a way analogous to that in which mortality and morbidity statistics have contributed to the prevention and control of disease.

Community Chests move into another decade initially dominated by defense problems and emergencies, but they do so with confidence in expanding vision of their community leaders.  Inspiring equal confidence is the knowledge that the content of community planning its steadily deepening and widening; that the principles of division of responsibility between public and private service, priorities in terms of the needs of the whole community, and practices aiming to bring about more effective coordination between specialized services, all are becoming clearer.  In the last analysis these are the considerations which should guide the agency in developing its service and guide the Community Chest in raising and allocating funds.  Increasingly, such communitywide planning in governing the spending of the money for which the Chest is trustee to the community.

Source: University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, Social Welfare History Archives. Minneapolis, MN: