Meredith Strang Burgess: During season of giving, keep Maine in mind

High-profile marketing executive notes that Maine’s community-based organizations – who serve our neighbors – need help, too.
A collage of logos for the Maine Cancer Foundation's Tri for a Cure event, Make-a-Wish Maine, and The Maine Monitor.
There are many Maine non-profits during important work including Tri for a Cure by the Maine Cancer Foundation, Make-A-Wish Maine and The Maine Monitor/Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting.

You know the end of the year is coming just by checking your mailbox. It’s full of contribution requests from nonprofits near and far. Perhaps, like me, you have a stack of requests on your desk and in your email that you will review and decide which ones you will support this year with your charitable-giving budget.

There is one requirement I always follow, and it has become a passion of mine: I only support Maine-based charities that keep all of their money in Maine. As a fifth-generation Mainer, I want to do all I can to help our state, and there are many organizations right here that can use that help.

There are plenty of national and international charities doing important work, but why not help the people and organizations right here in our state? In the old days, those with extra money supported their local church or community, or even a specific family that everyone in town knew needed a little help that year. Those needy families and individuals are still here, but many of us became so busy that we didn’t have time for those that needed help nearby. Instead, we just wrote checks to international charities, which adeptly told the stories of people in need around the world.

In the process, we lost touch with our neighbors. And when you lose touch, a part of you feels… empty. But today, I sense a renewed passion for giving that involves a personal connection with one’s own community.

Do children in Africa and Asia need our support? Absolutely. Do children right here in Maine need our support, too? Absolutely. Food insecurity is increasing right here in Maine, and more Maine people than ever are living below the poverty level. Yet, we have made it socially improper to help people or situations directly.

Maine giving: By the numbers

I am cautious to say that marketing is the answer, but it is important to understand what drives and motivates personal charitable giving.

According to the Maine Philanthropy Center, which tracks both individual and foundation giving in Maine, individuals in Maine reported over $533 million in charitable donations on their taxes in 2017 (the latest data available), up 8% from 2016. Let’s hope that giving has continued to increase, but who knows how COVID-19 affected things.

And 20% of all Mainers, at virtually every income level, report charitable giving on their taxes. Mainers reported giving an average of $3,964 in 2017, well below the U.S. average of $6,751. But I suspect that does not account for the many small donations and personal gifts that Mainers put forth for their communities and individuals in need, without fanfare or tax deduction.

Think about successful fundraising campaigns in Maine that have continued over time, such as the Bruce Roberts Toy Fund that began in 1949, now called the Portland Press Toy Fund. It enjoys ongoing coverage in all the various media outlets of MaineToday Media to tell the many heartwarming needs of our neighbors. Highlighting local needs and receiving excellent visibility, make it a success year after year.

I may not have all the answers or every fact and figure, but this year wouldn’t it be amazing if together we kept that $533 million (or more) right here IN the state of Maine?! Think about the difference we can make right here, for the people who have become invisible and the organizations who need our support so much.


Meredith Strang Burgess

Meredith Strang Burgess is a Camden native, University of Maine graduate and Cumberland resident for over 40 years. Owner of Burgess Advertising & Marketing in Falmouth for 35 years, she served three terms in the Maine State Legislature, and is a 22-year breast cancer survivor. Mom to three grown sons, grandmother to two grandsons, who all live in Maine. Strang Burgess has been involved in many Maine-based fundraising projects, including the Ronald McDonald Houses in Bangor and Portland, and redeveloped the Maine Cancer Foundation to be one of the strongest Maine-based non-profits that keeps 100% of its funding in Maine and holds the annual Maine Tri for a Cure, the largest single-day fundraiser in the state. She has directly and indirectly raised hundreds of thousands of dollars that stayed in Maine, including the pink ribbon license plate program started in 2008, which has generated over $2.6 million to fight cancer.
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