Deb Taylor's Minnetonka nonprofit is scrambling to help an increasing population of older adults and their caregivers.
But fewer organizations are stepping up to fund services for aging Minnesotans, leaving her nonprofit, Senior Community Services, with a deficit and searching for new ways to boost donations.
"Babies and puppies get all the funding. We're just looking for equity in funding," said Taylor, the nonprofit's CEO and a board member on the Minnesota Leadership Council on Aging. "It's inconceivable to me [to cut funding] … as the number of older adults increases. The needs are growing."
The number of Minnesotans age 65 and older is expected to eclipse the state's K-12 population for the first time in history. Nonprofits are helping older adults continue to live on their own with services such as transportation, meals, lawn care and housekeeping. But funding for older adults and aging services has lagged behind the growing demand and even decreased, leaving Minnesota nonprofits struggling to fill in the gaps.
State and federal funding has essentially stayed stagnant while Minnesota has a shrinking number of foundations and organizations that specifically fund aging services and older adults. In 2018, the Greater Twin Cities United Way, which nonprofits said was the biggest nongovernment funder in the metro for aging services, narrowed its priorities, eliminating grant-making categories for independent living, which often helped seniors and people with disabilities. Nonprofits said the Park Nicollet Foundation did the same in 2017.
"Private philanthropy's investment in aging services is contracting significantly," said Rajean Moone, the executive director of the Minnesota Leadership Council on Aging. "Minnesota is one of the most giving states. [But foundations] give barely nothing to aging."
According to the most recent report by the Minnesota Council on Foundations, less than 1% of total grant dollars in 2012 went toward aging, elderly and senior citizens, down from almost 2% the year before. Children and youth received nearly 30% of funding while the most went to the "general public or unspecified." Foundations that fund seniors usually back innovative or expansion projects, not day-to-day operations.
At the Greater Twin Cities United Way, the changing funding strategy followed a funding shortfall in 2016.
Acooa Ellis, senior vice president of community impact, said the organization narrowed its priorities to make more of a difference in equity issues. While the organization isn't funding senior services specifically, she said United Way "still sees those organizations as critically important to the fabric of our community" and nonprofits that help seniors with housing or food insecurity issues can still get funding from the organization.
Besides grants, nonprofits rely on a mix of funding sources: cities, counties, federal and state aid, private donors and individuals paying fees for services. For example, half of Senior Community Services' revenue is from government contracts, a quarter from fees and a quarter from grants.
While grants are a smaller portion of the nonprofit's revenue, it still took a hit when the $440,000 a year it got from the Greater Twin Cities United Way was scaled down over the years and eliminated in 2018.
Now the west metro nonprofit, which provides senior outreach and caregiver services, such as support groups, household maintenance and social workers, is trying to attract more donations. The nonprofit hired a development director to bolster fundraising and it's getting pro bono help to market a program in hopes of increasing revenue.
In West St. Paul, DARTS, which provides services to help seniors live independently, had to cut one position and reduce another's hours after losing Greater Twin Cities United Way's funding. (It did see funding increase from the United Way of Hastings.) DARTS President Ann Bailey said she's serving fewer of the poorest people and could serve more people if she had extra funding and didn't face a workforce shortage.
In Minneapolis, Volunteers of America of Minnesota and Wisconsin shut down its Southwest Senior Center in 2017 after losing the $150,000 it got from Greater Twin Cities United Way — one of many metro senior centers that have closed due to funding shortfalls. But the organization said other nonprofits were able to serve seniors who had gone to the center.
In Stillwater, FamilyMeans has waiting lists for many of its services, trying to respond to a growing number of Minnesotans who are becoming caregivers.
The nonprofit lost $90,000 from the Greater Twin Cities United Way, but still gets money from the United Way of Washington County East.
"We can't keep up with demand," said Beth Wiggins, the director of caregiving and aging. "It's not a future need, it's a current need."
Public funding for seniors has also not kept pace with demand. For instance, Minnesota's funding through the federal Older Americans Act, which goes to nonprofits and programs that help older adults stay in their homes, has been consistently flat over the years except for a 12% bump in 2018 to $22 million.
And Moone said the reimbursement rate for nonprofits for another program called the Elderly Waiver hasn't kept pace with the cost of delivering services.
At East Side Neighborhood Services in northeast Minneapolis, it wasn't just United Way funding that affected the nonprofit. President Kristine Martin said other foundations have cut their funding; Hennepin County decreased its spending by $25,000 for the nonprofit's senior transportation services last year and federal funding hasn't gone up in more than a decade.
In 2018, the nonprofit closed its adult day center and cut staff, one of several adult day centers in the city that closed. Martin said the Legislature and foundations need to increase spending, part of a societal shift to prioritize older adults more.
"I think it doesn't pull at our heartstrings the way it should," she said. "It's going to get worse."
The funding crunch will affect not just seniors, but their families, the caregivers, said Dawn Simonson, executive director of the Metropolitan Area Agency on Aging.
"Funding shortfalls in any of these buckets creates more burden on families and doesn't provide the kind of support that older adults need to stay at home," she said. "We need to be looking at this in a holistic matter."
Moone, who used to work for the Greater Twin Cities United Way when it was dedicating $5 million a year to work with older adults and people with disabilities, said private foundations have misconceptions about how much government funds in aging services.
And it's harder for nonprofits to quantify the same return-on-investment — say, helping adults stay in their homes longer — as those who work with youth and children.
"I think there's ageism involved," Taylor added. "When we think of calling ourselves a 'senior,' it's always someone who is 15 years older. It's someone [other] than me."