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Dr. Keith Taylor: Founder and CEO of Modest Needs

Modest Needs has a unique approach to helping those who live just above the poverty line. Their site allows people to post about what they need help with, and donors can provide funding to that specific cause. Some need help fixing a car so they can drive to work, some need a few extra bucks to pay rent, and some need assistance affording school supplies for their kids. Dr. Taylor founded Modest Needs to encourage people to show compassion for those who need a little help to get by.

Can you tell me about Modest Needs’ mission?

It’s really simple. We help low income workers who are at risk of slipping into poverty by helping them afford short term expenses. In our country, we have safety nets available for those who are truly destitute, but there’s no help available for people who are just getting by. Our goal is to help the people who have enough money to live, but not enough money to save. When an emergency arises and you don’t have savings to cover it, it then takes over all aspects of your life. For me, philanthropy is about having compassion. It’s not about how much money you have, but is about doing what you can with what you already have. Our applicants are guided through a simple online process to make it as easy as possible for them. Then, donors can contribute funds to a specific cause. The money goes directly to the person in need, not to us as an organization.

What kinds of issues does Modest Needs help with?

Housing is the number one issue. When people have an emergency that comes up, like an overdue medical bill or a car that breaks down, they pull money from their rent fund to pay for it. Rent is our biggest expense in a given month, so it’s the most logical thing to borrow from. We tell ourselves that we’ll find a way to make the money later, but it’s hard to do that in actuality. There’s a lot that needs to happen to help these people on a nationwide scale. Raising the minimum wage is important, but doesn’t mean so much if it’s not increasing at the same rate that other expenses are increasing. It would be ideal if we had federally sponsored housing for people who need a few hundred dollars off their rent. Having adequate affordable housing in urban areas would make a huge difference.

What is the best part of your job?

The best part of my job is being able to spend all day making people’s lives better. One of our earliest applications came from a woman who was a teacher in Kentucky. Her son had a unique eye disorder that could be corrected with special lenses, and she asked us for $50 to put down a deposit on the lenses. It was so touching to me that she didn’t ask us to cover the whole cost, but just asked for what she needed at that moment. We offered to pay $550 to cover the lenses so that all she had to pay for was the frames. A few weeks later, CBS wanted to do a story on us. I agreed to do the story, but only if they focused on the people we help and not on me. They agreed and ended up interviewing this woman in Kentucky. In her interview, she said that when her son wore the glasses we bought him for the first time, he said, “Mom, is that you?” This was the first time that the 6-year-old had ever truly seen his mom. To me, that makes this all worth it. It doesn’t take a lot of money to make change, but it takes a lot of heart.

Where do you hope to take Modest Needs in the future?

I would love to find a way for it to be more social. I’m trying to make Modest Needs more interactive for our supporters and have it be a collaborative experience. I get to see the unbelievable impact of what we do everyday, and I want other people to hear those stories as well, maybe through social media. I want our donors to feel involved in the organization and see how their money helps. About 80% of the people we assist end up becoming long-term donors. They may not give much, but just $5 or $10 a month can go a long way.


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