December 16, 2010

Half of Charities See Healthy Increases in Holiday Giving, Chronicle Poll Finds

Heart to Heart International

Heart to Heart International, an Olathe, Kan., global aid and health-services charity, says a big increase in corporate donations will lift year-end giving this year by 30 percent to 35 percent.

For many charities this holiday season, sharp increases in fund raising are an unexpected holiday gift, a new Chronicle poll finds.

Fifty-three percent of the 181 organizations that reported on the state of their November and December appeals told The Chronicle that they were raising more than they had during the same time a year ago. One in five said their donations had jumped by 20 percent or more.

The year-end lift is one reason that many groups say total donations for the 2010 fiscal year will be higher than in 2009, even when The Chronicle excluded the results for 19 groups that raised money for the Haiti disaster, which drew more than $1.4-billion in gifts.

Nearly 47 percent predicted they would close the year with an overall gain in donations, while 32.1 percent said donations for the year would decrease. One out of five said giving would be flat.

Still, even with the increase in giving, many charities are not raising as much as they did before the recession began. Forty-seven percent of the organizations (not counting groups that raised money for Haiti) do not expect to raise as much this year as they did before the economy soured. Even so, 24 percent said donations topped the amount they raised before the recession, and 29 percent said they had pulled even with their pre-recession donations.

Organizations of all sizes and missions responded to The Chronicle’s poll, which was conducted online in the first two weeks of December.

Heart to Heart International, an Olathe, Kan., global aid and health-services charity, says a big increase in corporate donations will lift year-end giving this year by 30 percent to 35 percent over the $640,000 it raised in the last three months of 2009.

“As the economy has improved, the climate of corporate giving has improved as well,” says Pete Brumbaugh, vice president of planning and performance at Heart to Heart. He said big gifts from medical-supply companies helped push corporate giving up 81.1 percent so far this year.

Another year-end gift is expected to arrive soon from Fed­Ex: a three-year $1.95-million commitment in annual donations of $250,000 in cash and $400,000 in shipping services. The charity expects to raise a total of $4.2-million to $4.4-million this year, about a 133-percent jump over last year’s total of $1.8-million. Heart to Heart was among the many American charities that raised money to provide relief to people in Haiti, and it estimates that at least half of its contributions this year were for aid to victims of the earthquake.

Flat Results

While charities like Heart to Heart are doing well, as are many other organizations that rely heavily on wealthy donors, the holiday season has capped a year of continuing struggles to raise enough money to meet demand.

Hope for the City in Minnetonka, Minn., a nonprofit organization that collects corporate products to distribute to the needy, anticipates giving in November and December as well as total giving to be similar to the nearly $1-million raised last year.

“It’s been roughly static,” says Brenda Kilber, business manager. A good sign, though: It’s already received a $15,000 year-end gift from a donor, and it expects the total to be $150,000 for year-end gifts, an improvement over last year’s $134,000.

Cindy Weber, financial-development director at the Door County YMCA, in Sturgeon Bay, Wis., says the organization expects to raise $50,000 in November and December, compared with $40,000 in those two months last year. Still, donations the rest of the year have been sluggish, so even with the increase, the organization expects total private giving for 2010 to end up about the same as last year.

Ms. Weber says the YMCA is making a more concerted effort than in the past to push year-end gifts. It planned earlier in the year and increased its budget for donor relations.

“It did not used to be, but it’s becoming more of a priority now,” she says.

For example, the donor-relations money is being used to bake cookies for people who give $1,000 or more. “They love it,” Ms. Weber says. “It makes us stand out from everybody else.”

Colby College’s annual giving fund had fewer donors this year than last year. But the Waterville, Me., institution says donors are giving in larger amounts—on average, about 10 percent more than last year.

The increased size of donations has helped buffer the institution from the drop in number of donors, but overall contributions are still no higher than last year, says Carolyn Gray Kimberlin, director of the Colby Fund.

Taxes and Government Aid

For charities that rely on government aid as well as the motivation of federal tax breaks for giving, it has been tough to raise enough to meet demands or grow.

Irving Cares, a social-service charity that aids the poor in Irving, Texas, says it’s bracing for a huge slide in giving this year, both during the holiday season and for all of 2010, even though it has faced increased demand since the recession started. Among the gifts it received last year but not this year are $70,000 in stimulus funds, $76,000 from a family foundation, and $50,000 from the president of ExxonMobil.

It’s anticipating 2010 giving to decline by 36 percent from last year’s total of $1.2-million. The charity has already seen a 17-percent decrease in donations so far in December this year, compared with the same period last year.

Donations of groceries and other items to its food pantry declined 5 percent over last year, meaning the charity has to spend more at stores to buy goods that haven’t been donated.

Donors last year understood the charity’s plight and responded accordingly, but this year, those donors are a lot more cautious, says Kimberly Humphries, development director for Irving Cares. “They’re worried about whether they have enough.”

Tax Stall

For some charities, donations have been stymied by the debates in Congress about whether to extend until next year or beyond the tax cuts that have been in place for most of the past decade. Until passage of a new tax bill in Congress Thursday night, some donors were put off by the lack of clear guidance about how high their tax bills would be next year.

The Christian Foundation for Children and Aging in Kansas City, Kan., says it has been affected by the uncertainty. “Some have called and asked what’s the latest word with the whole tax-benefits issue,” says Martin Kraus, director of finance. “Others have said, 'I’m gonna go ahead’ instead of waiting until close to the end of the year and send their contribution anyway. And I’m sure there are some that are still waiting.”

The foundation says year-end gifts are likely to grow by 3 percent from November and December 2009, while total donations for the year will increase by just 2 percent.

“I do feel that when the economic environment turns positive, that 2-percent improvement will grow,” Mr. Kraus says.

Haiti Appeals

Perhaps the charities that fared the best in percentage gains in donations in 2010 have been those that responded to the disasters of the Haiti earthquake and the Pakistan floods.

New York-based Doctors Without Borders says donations for the entire year will grow by more than 20 percent and that year-end gifts are ahead of last year’s pace by 10 to 19 percent.

Haiti efforts are still garnering plenty of attention for the charity. This week, for example, Twitter named a message from the “Today Show” news anchor Ann Curry the most powerful tweet of 2010. (She wrote: “@usairforce find a way to let Doctors without Borders planes land in Haiti: THE most effective at this.”)

The message prompted so much public pressure, the Air Force relented. Doctors Without Borders recruited about 280,000 first-time donors because of the Haiti disaster, says Melanie West, director of marketing. “It’s a big increase in our donor base,” she says. “We have to do everything in our power to renew them.”

So far, it has persuaded 10 percent of those donors to make a second gift, and it is intensifying efforts to get repeat gifts from more new supporters. “It’s a wonderful problem to have,” Ms. West says.

About The Chronicle’s survey:

The Chronicle survey collected information from a wide range of organizations. Education groups (27.9 percent), health charities (17.3 percent), and social-service organizations (10.6 percent) made up the largest number of respondents; others included international groups (10.6 percent) and community foundations (9.5 percent).


Roughly 11 percent of the charities that participated had budgets of less than $1-million; 20 percent had budgets of $1-million to $4.9-million; 10 percent had budgets of $5-million to $9.9-million, 10 percent had budgets of $10-million to $24.9-million, 10 percent had budgets of $25-million to $49.9-million, 8 percent had budgets of $50-million to $99.9-million, and 32 percent had budgets of $100-million or more.