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In Superstorm’s Wake, Charities Worry About Year-End Giving

City Harvest, a food bank in New York and a member of Feeding America’s network, distributes fresh produce. (Courtesy of Feeding America)

As the scale of the disaster caused by Superstorm Sandy is increasingly evident, charity leaders are wondering about another impact of the storm: its effect on the all-important end-of-year fundraising season.

Feeding America, whose food banks are active participants in the relief effort, says it had already factored uncertainty into its end-of-year fundraising, given the still-faltering economy and close presidential election. It says such planning is now helping it to weather this big storm.

In particular, the charity anticipated a dip in giving this year due to the election, says Maura Daly, chief communications and development officer. “We planned for that to be offset by an increase in corporate giving,” she says.

And while she says she hopes Feeding America remains on track to meet its $81-million fundraising goal this year, she acknowledges that the timing of the hurricane couldn’t have been worse for the organization. Storm-relief efforts will bring in additional donations, but those aren’t unrestricted gifts like most of the charity’s usual year-end revenue.

“End-of-year fundraising is critical to us,” she says. “It’s the largest season of giving, particularly individual giving, but there are some things that are just out of our control.”

Other groups that count on holiday giving for a substantial part of their annual budgets say they hope Sandy isn’t a disaster for their bottom lines, even as they are encouraging donors also to support storm-relief efforts.

Colleen Zakrewsky, vice president for development and marketing at the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, says she hopes the charity’s donors will find it in their hearts—and wallets—to support both hurricane victims and the foundation.

“Our message is ‘contribute to this essential effort, but contribute to us, too,’” says Ms. Zakrewsky.

Advisers to major donors say that although they are encouraging their clients to make disaster-related gifts now, they don’t expect end-of-year giving to decline as a result.

Schwab Charitable has moved quickly to assist the donors it advises in making end-of-the-year gifts to benefit disaster-relief organizations, says Kim Laughton, the organization’s president.

“Our clients tell us that they are planning on giving more this year than they did in 2011,” Ms. Laughton says. “Their hurricane-related gifts are coming on top of the giving they’ve already planned.”

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