Fund raisers nationwide have been hoping donations would increase this month, but the outlook is grim for many charities now entering the final weeks of the year when giving normally increases sharply.
Among the rare bright spots: Charities that provide the very poor with food, shelter, and basic services say donors are responding because the bad economy has enabled them to make the case that demand for such services is increasing rapidly.
In a Chronicle spot check of 35 charities, 28 organizations say that giving is flat or down this calender year, and 10 are reporting declines of 10 percent or more. (See detailed results from charities that provided fund-raising figures to the Chronicle.)
At the Women’s Center for Education and Career Advancement, a New York charity that helps low-income women become self-sufficient, officials say contributions have dropped by at least 25 percent.
And at the Hazelden Foundation, the fund-raising arm of a 60-year-old Minneapolis substance-abuse treatment center, donations have declined 49 percent.
“We are whistling past the graveyard,” says Craig Wruck, Hazelden’s associate vice president of development. “No one wants to admit how bad this is.”
Large Charities Struggle
It’s not just small groups that are feeling the pain: Even large charities have watched contributions plummet by large percentages. By November 30, the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, in Mountain View, Calif., had received $117-million in donations, a 48-percent drop compared with the same period last year.
The holiday season is typically a time when many social-service charities raise a big share of their income, and many of those groups are not doing as poorly as other nonprofit groups. Among the returns:As of December 11, Catholic Charities USA had raised $7.2-million this year, a 15-percent increase over the same period last year. Donors have stepped up their year-end online gifts from the last week in November, when the average gift was $148.50, to the first week in December, when the average gift was $201 and the number of donors also increased. “Those who donate clearly are giving in support of the poor who have no safety net,” says Patricia Hvidston, the charity’s senior director of development. At Crisis Assistance Ministry, a Charlotte, N.C., charity that provides emergency financial assistance, giving in the last week of November totaled $47,612, up from $30,966 in the same week last year. Many gifts this year are from people who have not given in the past or are increasing their donations, says Doug Hartjes, director of development. “People recognize the greater need,” he says. “People are digging deeper because they realize people are hurting more than them, even though their 401(k) has gone down” . The Salvation Army affiliate in Appleton, Wisc., on December 5 raised a national one-day record of $497,423 for a local Red Kettle drive. One reason for the strong results was an offer from Thrivent Financial to match donations dollar for dollar up to $125,000 that day. But Army officials said that donors were motivated this year by the increased needs of their neighbors since the region has lost at least one major employer and faced layoffs at numerous other local businesses. The same type of one-day challenge from Thrivent last year helped raise just $157,256. By the end of November, Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties, had raised $7.2-million, a 5-per-cent increase over the same period last year. One donor who had previously given $500 recently decided to give $50,000 to the food bank, because she was inspired by Barack Obama’s presidential win, says Michelle Sklar, the food bank’s senior director of development. The donor, she adds, “said it was the first time in 10 years she felt there was an opportunity for positive change in policies that would help needy persons in our community.”
But other charities have not benefited from such generosity this year. The Montana Wilderness Association, in Helena, says contributions have shrunk by 11 percent so far in 2008, to $753,894. Advocates to End Domestic Violence, in Carson City, Nev., which runs emergency and transitional housing shelters with a total of 66 beds, reports that gifts from individuals have plummeted by about 45 percent, to just $26,380. And Habitat for Humanity Inland Valley, in Temecula, Calif., says its contributions to date are down by even more, to $89,000, a 47-percent drop.
As bad as this year has been for many charities, several fund raisers say that they are even more worried about next year and beyond.
Paralyzed Veterans of America, which raises the majority of its contributions from direct mail, says that contributions have dropped 3 percent as of last week, a relatively small loss compared with the declines of other organizations. But that is no consolation for the charity’s chief fund raiser, Mark Dowis, who says his organization is projecting the financial downturn will last through 2010 and maybe longer.
“I don’t feel better, because direct marketing depends on the psychology of the marketplace,” he says. “It will definitely get worse before it gets better.”
****** Because the year-end giving season is especially critical this year, The Chronicle will continue to provide a look at how specific charities are doing every week this month. If you have results you would like to share with us, please send an e-mail message to firstname.lastname@example.org