How it all began: The History of Dollar Energy Fund

May 18th, 2015

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Today, Dollar Energy Fund is a thriving non-profit entity that has served the limited-income community for more than 30 years.   We have provided more than 426,500 utility assistance grants to limited-income families and individuals and have grown to become the largest hardship fund in Pennsylvania and one of the largest in the country.

We have two offices and approximately 100 employees working for the cause. But it hasn’t always been this way. While we have always cared for the welfare of our neighbors, we haven’t always been in the position to provide significant aid like we are now.

When Dollar Energy Fund was founded in 1983 by a coalition of concerned community and business leaders, one person processed grant applications in the basement of a church.

It began when local religious and community leaders recognized that far too many of their less fortunate neighbors were unable to afford the cost of heat, light and water. These neighbors were experiencing hardships because of job loss, health problems and trying to provide for a family as a single parent. Simply put, they did not have the resources to afford their utility bills. Community leaders decided to form a coalition and present an idea to a local electric utility organization.

The Big Idea:

If the utility would offer shareholder credits, the coalition would work with the organization to raise enough money through donations to match those credits. That money would then be applied as a one-time grant directly to the utility bill. Grant recipients would have to meet certain eligibility guidelines in order to receive a grant, and would need to apply for any federally-funded energy assistance grants first. Applicants also had to have made a sincere attempt to pay the bill on their own, depending on the household situation.

The electric organization, Duquesne Light, accepted the proposal from Dollar Energy Fund and “Add-a-Buck for the Out-of-Luck” was born! Since then, many utilities have joined the partnership, including gas and water companies. Because of their outreach, community based organizations were asked to join the partnership in order to collect necessary information for grant eligibility and to complete applications.

We expanded beyond Pennsylvania in 2008 with the addition of a Hardship Program in West Virginia. Since then, we’ve extended our reach into Ohio, Virginia, Tennessee and Maryland in 2009; Texas and Louisiana in 2011; Arkansas in 2013; and most recently, California and Kentucky in 2014. We currently administer Hardship Programs for 32 utility companies.

Dollar Energy Fund partners with more than 450 community-based organizations throughout our service territory. These organizations handle application intake for our programs while also connecting those in need with other forms of assistance. The demand for assistance from our program has grown significantly due to increased costs of everyday living expenses and severe weather conditions.

To meet the need, we rely on the generosity of individual donors. Our unique funding model provides a dollar-for-dollar match from our partnering utility companies for every donation we receive. The utility companies also make a separate donation to cover our administrative fees, so 100 percent of all individual donations are used to provide utility assistance grants to limited-income households.

That fundraising model, coupled with business acumen, a non-profit core and a growing team of hard-working employees, has made Dollar Energy Fund the organization that it is today. While we’ve come a long way, we have never lost the compassion or drive that we began with in 1983.

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