News and analysis
May 16, 2010

Donations in 2010’s First Quarter Show Healthy Signs for Charities

Catholic Charities

Catholic Charities is using an advertising campaigns using billboards in New York to help raise more money.

Donations to the nation’s biggest charities are growing rapidly in the first quarter of 2010, compared with the same time in 2009, a sign that many nonprofit groups are making a strong recovery from the fund-raising troubles they suffered last year, according to a new Chronicle survey.

Giving grew by a median of 11 percent in the first three months of 2010, compared with 2009, meaning that donations to half of the charities grew faster while the other half were faring less well.

To calculate the giving rate, The Chronicle excluded charities that were raising money to help Haiti recover from January’s devastating earthquake. The 18 organizations in the study that raised money for Haiti, such as Mercy Corps and the United States Fund for Unicef, received 57 percent more in donations in the first quarter of 2010 than they did in 2009, largely because of the disaster.

When those groups are combined with other large charities, the median growth rate for all 73 charities in the Chronicle poll tops 14 percent.

The Chronicle’s quarterly survey of giving offers a bellwether of how donations to all charities are doing because it is based on the donation rates to charities that appear on the Philanthropy 400, The Chronicle’s annual tally of the American organizations that raise the most from private sources.

Four of the organizations that provided numbers were among the top 25 recipients of donations last year: Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund (No. 3), World Vision (No. 11), Catholic Charities USA (No. 13) and Nature Conservancy (No. 14).

In another sign that prospects are brightening, the latest installment of the Chronicle of Philanthropy Index, which aggregates quarterly changes in four economic indicators that affect charitable giving, shows an uptick in the economy from the last quarter of 2009 to the first quarter of 2010. (See table.)

Brighter Picture

Positive fund-raising results for the first quarter were a relief for many organizations.

“The economy has certainly loosened up a bit, and that has loosened up how our donors feel and how we all feel,” says Joe Kender, vice president for advancement at Lehigh University, in Bethlehem, Pa.

Lehigh, which wrapped up a $500-million capital campaign at the end of December, still managed to raise nearly 25 percent more money so far this year than it did in the first three months of 2009.

The university was one of 49 organizations in the Chronicle survey to report an increase in cash donations when comparing the first quarters of both years. Donations to 24 organizations dropped.

Still, it will take a long time for charities to regain the ground they lost in the recession.

Among the 14 groups in the Chronicle survey that provided three years’ worth of first-quarter data, the median change from 2008 to 2009 was a decrease of nearly 20 percent. The change from 2009 to 2010 was an increase of 18 percent.

Together, the 73 organizations in The Chronicle’s poll raised a total of $564.4-million more in the first quarter of 2010 than in 2009’s first quarter. Gifts for earthquake-relief efforts in Haiti accounted for much of that total, with just four groups—Catholic Relief Services, the United States Fund for Unicef, the William J. Clinton Foundation, and World Vision—together collecting nearly $300-million.

Catholic Relief Services, in Baltimore, saw the biggest fund-raising jump in the Chronicle survey, raising $151.1-million, nearly seven times what it collected in early 2009. About $126-million of the donations were earmarked for Haiti.

But even without the Haiti gifts, giving to the charity grew by 15 percent, a start at erasing the 12-percent dip in donations it suffered in 2009.

Michael Wiest, Catholic Relief Services executive vice president for charitable giving, says his group will soon make new pitches to the 130,000 new donors who gave to the Haiti relief efforts, hoping to turn them into long-term supporters.

“Because of all these new donors and because things are starting to look up a bit in the economy, we are modestly bullish that we’ll have a much better 2010 than expected,” Mr. Wiest says. “But we have to be mindful that unemployment figures and foreclosures are issues that impact our typical donors more than how the stock market is doing.”

He says Catholic Relief Services is developing a new effort to attract donors who want to see that even their relatively small donations can make a difference. The charity plans to match individuals and parishes to give money to specific projects the charity is undertaking, such as rebuilding schools in Haiti.

“It’s not sponsorship, but something similar, where people who want specificity can see that their small gifts are adding up to something,” Mr. Wiest says.

More Personal Touch

Catholic Charities USA, a social-services group in Baltimore that is unrelated to Catholic Relief Services, is working on new fund-raising approaches, too.

It hopes to raise $7.8-million this year, the amount it collected in 2008 before gifts dropped to $7.2-million last year.

Catholic Charities started an advertising campaign in the fall, putting ads in eight nationally circulated Catholic magazines, a billboard in New York City, and a giant digital sign in New York’s Times Square.

The organization is also focusing on a more personal touch with donors, making more follow-up phone calls after a solicitation letter and sending e-mail messages with quick survey data about how well the social-service organizations it supports are serving clients.

Catholic Charities raised about $1.1-million in the first three months of this year, down slightly from the same period in 2009, when it received one large and unexpected gift from a new donor.

James Howell, the group’s director of development, says that 2010 otherwise feels strong so far and that the organization is expecting dividends from its new fund-raising approaches.

'A Different World’

To be sure, a snapshot of fund raising for any three-month period doesn’t necessarily tell the story of an organization’s position or prospects.

For instance, The Chronicle’s survey shows that donations to Population Services International, in Washington, plummeted 85 percent in the first quarter. A spokeswoman for the group says that two multimillion dollar grants from private foundations arrived early last year and that overall the organization expects to raise more money this year than last.

The University of Utah shows a 39 percent first-quarter drop in donations compared with 2009, but Fred Esplin, Utah’s vice president for institutional advancement, says gifts grew by $5.6-million for the fiscal year that ends in June and that the inconsistencies are due to “the ebb and flow of when money comes in.”

Mr. Esplin points out that in the month of April alone, the university collected $15-million, more than the $12.2-million it raised in April 2009.

But for many nonprofit organizations, the recovery is still slow.

At the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, in Bethesda, Md., first-quarter fund raising dropped by 13 percent from 2008 to 2009 and then rose slightly—by 2 percent—this year.

C. Richard Mattingly, the organization’s chief operating officer, says he is pleased with recent gains but notes that the pace of recovery won’t mean a return to pre-recession fund-raising income for charities any time soon.

“It’s simply a different world than in ’07-08, and it will be through 2010, 11, 12,” he says.

The money his organization expects to raise this year through special events, such as its Great Strides walkathon program, is projected to rise 6 percent over last year’s totals—good, Mr. Mattingly says, but not enough to match last year’s 11-percent decline in event revenue.

Says Mr. Mattingly: “It’s better, for sure, but we’re still in for tough times.”

Noelle Barton and Emma Carew contributed to this article.

Editor’s note: Organizations that are listed on the Philanthropy 400 are encouraged to participate in the next round of this survey. If your organization wants to participate, please send an e-mail message to for details.