Why did the EITC FN undertake these projects?
This year, the EITC Funders Network worked with our partners on several special projects. This interview will highlight two of them. We supported a new pooled-fund called the Community Outreach & Opportunity Fund (CO-OP Fund) aimed at maximizing the number of individuals and families who got access to the expansions made possible by the American Rescue Plan Act. We also supported a social media campaign aimed at reaching young people who were newly eligible for the EITC during this past tax season.
The expansions of the federal CTC and EITC present a critical opportunity to dramatically improve financial stability for families with low income. However, these expansions could only achieve their goals if families know about the credits, are able to enroll, and can get their taxes done in free and non-predatory settings. A key implementation challenge was that families who earn the least do not typically file income tax returns because they are not required to (sometimes called, non-filers). Therefore, the IRS has no record of them, and they would not get the CTC payments automatically via direct deposit like many middle- and higher-income families. A big push to reach an estimated 5 million non-filers and also assist them with three interrelated touchpoints: outreach and navigating enrollment, sharing stories of success and shaping the local narrative on families in need, and helping families to file or reconcile tax returns in early 2022 became the focus of the COOP Fund. The final report for the COOP Fund can be found here.
Additionally, with the passage of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), the federal EITC was expanded to low-income young adults not claiming children on their taxes. For the first time, many more young adults could get $1500 back into their pockets, but they needed to file their taxes to do so. Understanding this was a very hard-to-reach population, the EITC Funders Network partnered with 1235 Strategies to develop and implement a social media influencer campaign to directly reach young adults through their existing networks during the final weeks of tax season.
In both the COOP and youth-focused social media projects there was an element of experimentation. With the CO-OP project the experiment took the form of… could we stand something up in a short period of time and could the community foundation pay that critical “last mile” role? With the 1235 project, the experiment centered around how social media influencers could be a conduit of information to help low-income, young adults get tax benefits in low-cost settings.
The passage of ARPA provided an important opportunity to reduce poverty among families. Right away a question was raised about the role of philanthropy vis a vis large government programs. What was the role of philanthropy of implementing public programs? A role of the EITC Funders Network is to bring our funders together in alignment around work. When there started to be more and more of these conversations about how philanthropy could proactively help these programs be successful, we knew there was an opportunity for us to work as a bridge.
What lessons were learned?
So many lessons, it is hard to be brief! In both projects, there were learnings for philanthropy, field partners and policymakers. A list of learnings for philanthropy are below.
From the COOP Project we learned:
- Funders can work in aligned ways – national-to-national funders and national-local funders. Collaboration may be tricky, but it can be done with positive impact.
- Investing in projects to enable more families to access the tax benefits for which they are eligible can incentivize additional public and private investment and can have a significant return on investment.
- Community foundations, due to their deep ties to trusted local partners, can be a conduit for national programming.
- Building on and leveraging existing relationships, program strategies, and infrastructure supports success.
- Investing in infrastructure development and maintenance year-round helps communities to remain prepared for tax season, allows local groups to better compete with paid preparers and builds social capital in communities.
- If evaluation or assessment of impact is important, the current inadequate and woefully antiquated data systems will need to be reimagined and replaced.
From the youth-focused social media campaign we learned:
- Starting by centering the needs of our audience is essential. Traditional methods work best in many communities but something different was needed to reach young people.
- Social media was a great tool for reaching young adults directly through influencers and their loved ones.
- Simple messages with a clear call to action that could be done right away was key to running a successful campaign.
- We developed several clear calls to action but had to be willing to give up some messaging “control” and trust the influencers to develop interactions that would resonate with their audience.
- Diversity among influencers was key to reaching young people nationwide.
- Challenging our assumptions about which influencers would work with each target population allowed us to be pleasantly surprised by reaching young people both directly and indirectly (through loved ones).
- Investing in digital ads allowed us to amplify our messages well past when they were posted and for the duration of the tax season.
What are the implications for the funding community?
Lessons for the funding community include:
- Alignment– Look for ways to work in alignment with other funders. There is power and security in numbers.
- Implementation– While policy change is important, implementation matters! Funding awareness and outreach efforts is important. It is equally important to invest in the development (and sustainability) of the infrastructure necessary to reduce issues related to equity, poor capacity and barriers to access for individuals and families.
- Timing– Start early! With both efforts, we had very short lead times to get them up and running. If we had more time to really build the model, it might have been even more successful.
- Systems– Working on tax credit and tax structure issues are important ways to make sure low-income families have more funds available and are connected to systems of support. This is especially true for Black and brown and immigrant communities.