Like a fly trapped in the window, many charitable organizations are finding themselves upside down, struggling to stay alive. Due to the continuing economic down-turn, donations, often charities’ only source of income, are dwindling, causing panic in some and creative determination in others.
Nearly one-third of all charitable donations in the U.S. come from 1 percent of the population, states Patrick Rooney, research director for the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, accounting for substantial losses from donors such as now defunct Lehman Bros. and Bear Stearns.
For organizations like CityMeals-on-Wheels in New York City, that means more than 18,000 elderly, who rely on this program for daily food, will be eating one meal per day, instead of the customary two.
Economic highs and lows have always influenced charitable giving, the down times most often affecting community organizations and the arts.
On a local level, economic hard times have fallen on the Marysville area as home foreclosures and closed businesses have resulted in a loss of revenue for the city, which then does not have the money to pass on to organizations like the Yuba-Sutter Regional Arts Council and the Chamber of Commerce. Both say they cannot count on funding from the city this year, but instead will promote special events and membership renewal to meet their budgets.
Although the California Arts Council allocates some profits from the sale of special license plates through the Department of Motor Vehicles to regional arts centers, Jim Jenkins, business manager for the Yuba-Sutter Regional Arts Council, was counting on profits from another successful promotional: “Hansel and Gretel,” by the Borgamaria Lyric Opera Company, in November.
In an effort to remain positive, Laura Nicholson, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce in Marysville, says that although funds are lagging, donations have been better than expected – “people are just more thoughtful about who they give to.”
Nicholson recognizes that these economic down-times can be challenging for charities, but says there are several ways to make up for the deficit. First, Nicholson advises, recognize that you will have to work harder to get the money, and make sure your organization has made its mission clear; and, second, do not panic by cutting all advertising. For example, the Chamber decided to save money not by canceling next year’s magazine ads altogether, but by abandoning plans to increase their size.
A charitable organization’s budget takes into account that donations will fluctuate from year to year as the economy does; nonetheless, the current situation leaves many understandably concerned that funding may be too low to work with. But does that mean they are doomed for closure, or just that they must be more determined and creative in their fund raising efforts?”Don’t apologize for asking for donations: be optimistic, and assure the individual they are making a positive investment,” advises Marc A. Pitman, author of the book, “Ask Without Fear,” which offers these survival tips:
Don’t try new fund raising tactics, especially if they are more costly.
Look over the your list of substantial givers: If hard-hit industries such as housing, construction and mortgage businesses are your top givers, consider soliciting other industries.
Instead of relying on “big” givers, focus more on individual donors making small gifts – who might in turn spread the news of your organization’s need to other individuals.
Don’t slash your budget for fund raising; just be more selective.
Most importantly, says Nicholson, remember that local businesses give locally, which is why the Chamber will heavily promote the “‘Tis the Season to Shop Local” campaign, encouraging people to do their holiday shopping in this community. Both Jenkins and Nicholson seemed optimistic about the future of local charities, reiterating that the Yuba-Sutter area is a giving community. Both spoke confidently that, although people may be experiencing tough financial times, locals have found – and will continue to find- value in supporting philanthropy.