Financing Hope with Modest Means

 By Cheryl Ellis, Staff Writer

Geneva and her husband struggle each month to make ends meet since she had to leave her job last year to care full-time for her daughter. Her daughter suffers from Down’s syndrome, ALL leukemia, and severe anemia. As the cold winter months in Ohio approached, they worried how they would heat their home. The fuel companies required a minimum delivery of 250 gallons to fill the tank in order to deliver fuel and after basic necessities of mortgage, food, and medical supplies for Geneva’s daughter, there wasn’t enough money left. They tried to borrow funds from relatives to help, yet no one was able to assist them. In desperation, Geneva contacted Modest Needs.

Modest Needs began as a way for its founder Dr. Keith P. Taylor to engage in philanthropy while still making a difference in the lives around him. He knew he could not possibly afford large gifts, and he noticed that many families struggled with day-to-day expenses where modest amounts could make a significant impact on their lives. “You don’t have to be rich to change someone’s life,” says Taylor.

Modest Needs fills a much-needed gap in many lives. For example, according to the 2-1-1 Texas Information and Referral Network, more than 52 percent of callers who request assistance do so for basic needs. Many of these needs include utility assistance, rental/mortgage assistance, health care, and public benefits. Beth Wick, Program Coordinator for 2-1-1 Texas says, “Many of the people who call need help to make ends meet; sometimes it’s a one-time request, while others need help from month to month.”

Unfortunately, the statistics reported by Texas are common across the United States and much of Canada. According to theory underlying Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, in order to grow in substantive areas, individuals must have their basic needs meet (food, water, and shelter) first. Until this happens, individuals become stuck in a chronic cycle until these needs are met.

In 2002, Dr. Taylor acted on his desire to see many people move beyond their basic, every day needs. He devoted 10 percent of his gross income – approximately $350 per month – to help people move from dependence to self-sufficiency. He leverages the power of the Internet to attract other donors who may have relatively small amounts of money to give, but together Taylor and these donors are changing the face of philanthropy.

“Modest Needs attracts those donors who want to feel that their giving is significant, even if it is on a much smaller scale than the Warren Buffets and Bill Gates of the world,” states Taylor. “These donors want to offer something and they share the idea that their dollars make an impact.”

Helping Caregivers:

Many of the people who have received help through Modest Needs are caregivers in one form or another. Geneva cares for a chronically ill child and found her need for heating oil met through Modest Needs. Her thank you letter stated, “Thank you to all who helped our family get heating oil for our home. The cold weather has already begun and we have been trying our best to keep the kids warm since our fuel oil tank has been empty since last winter. God bless all of you for your kindness and helping our family stay warm this winter season.”

Taylor remembers the story of a gentleman from Canada who received help from Modest Needs. This gentleman had a child with a crippling illness and the family had spent countless dollars remodeling their home to make it wheelchair accessible. Finally, the gentleman ran out of money before he could purchase a vehicle that would allow for easy transport. The van they had could not be retrofit; however, he decided that he could build a ramp into the van that would allow the wheelchair to travel. His proposal to Modest Needs was that if the organization would supply the material needs, he would build the ramp himself.

Taylor states, “He sent us pictures of the ramp when it was finished! With a small investment, this family was able to have an accessible van; there was no need to spend thousands of dollars for a handicap accessible van.”

Another story is that of a young student in New York who wanted her brother to be able to leave their second story apartment despite his mobility issues. The problem was getting a stair lift that would make coming and going from the apartment easier. Taylor recalls, “This situation presented a particularly difficult dilemma. The stair lift was $15,000, well above our capacity to help. I called the young lady and challenged her to raise $14,000. If she could do that, Modest Needs would pay the remaining $1,000.” The young lady did just that – she raised $14,000 from individuals, businesses and other foundations and Taylor delivered on his promise that Modest Needs would pay the difference.

Giving Guidelines:

Of course there are limits to the types of assistance that Modest Needs can provide. The typical grant is $380 and always less than $1,000. “Beyond $1,000 and we feel the need is no longer modest,” Taylor says.

There are three categories of grants that Modest Needs makes:

  • Self-sufficiency grants – prevent an otherwise self-sufficient person or family from entering the cycle of poverty when a financial burden arises due to a small emergency expense.

  • Back-to-Work grants – provide self-sufficiency to willing individuals who may be limited in returning to the workplace by a small expense. Examples of these grants are purchasing special tools or paying licensing fees that may be otherwise out of reach.

  • Independent Living/Quality of Life grants – assist those who are not able to work, yet these individuals want to continue living independently despite a small need or unexpected expense that no other organization can meet.

Individuals who desire help from Modest Needs must first fill out an online application. If it is approved to move further through the process, staff at Modest Needs will contact the individual for written documentation of the request. For example, if the need is for a specialized piece of medical equipment, Modest Needs will ask for copies of pricing for the equipment from the vendor where the equipment will be purchased. Once the documentation is approved, the request is placed on the Modest Needs website.

“Just because a need is on the website,” says Taylor, “does not mean that it is automatically funded. Our donors help score the applications in an effort to prioritize the funding that we have each week.”

Taylor adds that IRS regulations prohibit donors from designating their donations to assist a specific individual. Rather donors are involved in ranking applications and staff makes the final decisions on who is assisted based on the final scoring and the amount of money available each week for assistance. In order to determine that funds are used responsibly, money is never given directly to the applicant. Rather, Modest Needs mails a check to the vendor or creditor on behalf of the individual.

Applications that are not funded remain on the website and can continue to be scored each week for 30 days. After that, the application is removed from the site and if the score is high enough, the individual is invited to resubmit their application as long as the need remains.

In 2006, donors have had the special privilege of knowing that their dollars are serving even more people. An anonymous celebrity donor has pledged to match each dollar raised by Modest Needs. For the first time since Modest Needs was formed, the organization has given away 100 percent of its donor dollars and used the celebrity’s funds for operational expenses, as well as giving to meet the needs of individuals who request help from Modest Needs.

Hundreds of persons seek help from Modest Needs each month, bringing an unfortunate dilemma. “There will never be enough money to meet the needs,” says Taylor. “There are people who will not get assistance from Modest Needs, even though they have legitimate requests.”

Caregivers may find that their needs fit the guidelines for Modest Needs and feel that they can apply for assistance. At the same time, some individuals may feel that they have a few dollars to donate each month to help persons who may not otherwise get assistance. Taylor invites both categories of individuals to visit Modest Needs and find out how they may give or get help. For more information about Modest Needs, contact information is available online at


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