Solutions to the Depression

9, 10, 11, 12

Students will discuss the solutions implemented by President Roosevelt during the Great Depression. They will analyze why the solutions were able to be implemented over time and allow for a successful resolution to the depression. The role that philanthropy played in this success will be central to the discussion.

PrintThree Fifty-Five Minute Periods

The learner will:

  • describe how the New Deal components affected all segments of society.
  • evaluate the role of nonprofits during the New Deal.
  • explain how philanthropy created community capital during the Great Depression.
  • Student copies of New Deal Legislation (Attachment One)
  • Great Depression Chart (Attachment Two)
  • Student copies of A Role for Nonprofits (Attachment Three)
  • Fugate, Sandy. For the Benefit of All. Battle Creek: W. K. Kellogg Foundation, 1997. ISBN: 1-891445-00-6
  • Guidestar


  1. Anticipatory Set:Students will begin the class session with a journal entry.“ Describe what you think President Roosevelt should have done to solve the problems of the Depression.”Discuss student answers and continue the discussion with the explanation that President Roosevelt’s plan to solve the problems of the Depression was called the New Deal.

  2. Hand out student copies of New Deal Legislation (Attachment One). Ask the students to look at how the programs are divided into different sections. Discuss those divisions and ask how they fit into their previous list of developing solutions for the problems of the Depression. Which individuals from the stories in Lesson One: Life During the Depression—Pictures could have been affected by different agencies/programs created by the New Deal? After they make the comparisons, ask the students to look at the dates of the programs. Have them note that the program did not occur overnight. Providing relief from the depression was a slow process.

    • Divide students into groups of three. In the groups, have the students brainstorm and record how the people and nation survived before all those programs were implemented. Remind them to focus on all the sectors of society from Lesson Two: Life During the Depression—Stories (government, nonprofit and for profit). Explain that when various members of the community work together to solve a problem, this can create community capital, that is, a positive attitude between groups which carries over into good will toward each other and the ability to work together to continue to solve the community’s problems. Ask students to think about the Great Depression and come up with other examples where this might have happened. Are there any present-day examples they can cite? Have students evaluate the value of community capital in a city. Once students are done brainstorming, begin listing the possible items that would have influenced the possibility of a slow transition towards change. The majority of the list will probably point to local governments and the nonprofit sector as being the major supports available for individuals. Point out that many of the local government efforts existed early in the Great Depression but ran out of money in a short time as the numbers of those needing some kind of relief grew enormously.
    • Distribute copies of Great Depression Chart (Attachment Two) or put a copy of it on the overhead projector. Explain that, in addition to legislation passed by the New Deal, the nonprofit sector grew with the intention of providing help where government was unable. Go over the list of nonprofits that arose during the Depression. Are students familiar with the names of any of them? In the 1935 Revenue Act, the federal government allowed corporations to take tax deductions on donations. How might this have increased the number of foundations created by corporations? Define a foundation as an organization created from designated funds from which the income is distributed as grants to not-for-profit organizations or, in some cases, to people.
    • Distribute A Role for Nonprofits (Attachment Three). Working in their teams, have students select nonprofits that grew out of this period and do research on them. Complete the chart with that information. Share this information with the class when the charts are completed. (See Experiential Component for a sharing idea.) Ask students to speculate on what type of persons the founders of these organizations were and why they were willing to become philanthropists and give of their time, talent or money. Were they role models for others?
    • Tell students that in other countries the nonprofit sector may not flourish as it does in the United States. In many societies most problems are solved only by the governmental sector. When problems occur it is often because the government is not capable or is unwilling to support those people in need. In the case of the Depression the governments of Germany, Italy, Japan and many Eastern European countries found themselves giving control of their nations to either dictators or strong militarily motivated governments.
    • End the discussion with a writing assignment in which you have the students in groups of three envision a United States with no philanthropic organizations in the 1930s. Ask what would have happened to the United States. Have students utilize historic characters and events of the Depression to support their imaginary scenario.
    • Have students share their scenarios with the rest of the class. Have students evaluate the importance of nonprofit organizations in the United States during the Great Depression and today.

As part of a general test about the Depression include an essay question about the solutions and problems of the Depression: “ Describe how you would have dealt with solving the problems of the Depression, including how you would have involved government organizations, businesses and nonprofit groups.”

Cross Curriculum 

Have students write to the foundations they research and ask for literature regarding their present programs. Display the materials, as well as the student charts of A Role for Nonprofits (Attachment Three) on a school bulletin board or locked case display area.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 02. Roles of Government, Business, and Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Explain why needs are met in different ways by government, business, civil society and family.
      2. Benchmark HS.2 Provide examples from history of how the relationship between government and the civil society sector has changed.
      3. Benchmark HS.3 Identify an example of failure in each sector, and how the other sectors modified their roles in response.
    2. Standard DP 05. Role of Foundations
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Define the term foundation and describe the types of foundations.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 03. Philanthropy and Economics
      1. Benchmark HS.4 Give examples of how civil society sector giving by individuals and corporations can impact communities.
      2. Benchmark HS.6 Explain how economic systems encourage or discourage philanthropy and the civil society sector.
    2. Standard PCS 05. Philanthropy and Government
      1. Benchmark HS.13 Define and offer examples of community/social capital.