Non-profits are worried about donations in this recession
Non-profit organizations are facing a "double-whammy" right now, according to Father Bob Bussen of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Park City.
The combination of a recession and the approaching holidays is straining families living paycheck-to-paycheck, and the economy is making it difficult for people to donate to groups who help them.
Groups that sponsor the arts, help animals and conserve the environment are facing increasing costs and must vie for the same donation dollars as human services.
During tough economic times, it’s typical for people to select their two or three favorite charities to donate to, whereas otherwise they might give to several groups, explained Scott Lyttle, development director for the National Ability Center.
Insa Riepen, executive director of Recycle Utah, said that trend is a reason for concern since groups like hers don’t always make the top of people’s lists when families and children are in need.
Responses to a request for funds for an education campaign are already down 50 percent, she said.
Without donations, the center can’t afford to run programs like their recycle drop-off centers. She said her group will hold a meeting in mid-December to discuss the prospects of cutting some programs.
Teri Orr, executive director for the Eccles Center for Performing Arts, said groups like hers are "cutting to the bone" trying to be as resourceful as possible.
"We’ve already experienced a huge dip in our sponsorships and donations for the upcoming season," she said.
Charities engaged in human services aren’t resting easy, however, especially ones that are smaller or lesser known.
The double whammy
Shelley Vebber-Weiss, who assists the Park City police department with Latino issues, said she fears being overlooked this season.
She organizes the annual "Shop with a Cop" program in which local officers take needy children to Walmart to pick out Christmas presents or things they need. On a daily basis, she responds to the needs of people brought to the attention of the department who lack warm clothing, suffer from domestic violence or are victims of a crime.
She admits that fundraising is not one of her strengths. The city and county give her some money, but the majority of what she needs must be donated.
"I just want to help people. I want to pretend money doesn’t exist," she said. "I’m not good about asking people for money, I’m awful at that."
Jane Patten, executive director of the Peace House, worries that the needs of the community may overwhelm the resources of groups like hers. The Peace House is a place for women and children to go fleeing domestic violence. In tough economic times, the needs of people are greater, and she fears that women will stay in dangerous situations because they are fearful of being on their own in a bad economy.
Tim Dahlin of the Christian Center said gifts of objects like food, clothing and supplies are increasing in response to higher demand, but also predicted people may give less money this year.
Judy Sobin, Summit County regional director for the United Way, said a serious problem is that groups don’t just need money to help families during the holidays, they serve year-round and count on December donations for that.
"The economic crisis is not going away," she said. "People need to give what they can, when they can."
She thinks the slow-down some have seen in gifts may just be due to people taking longer to make contributions. She expects people planning to give will do so before the end of the year for tax reasons.
She thinks middle-income people nervous about their 401K’s are being cautious, but will come around when they realize they have enough to live on, and there are people in our community who don’t.
"People will give as much or more than in the past, I think everyone is still in shock," she said.
Recessions have a tendency to rally generous people and make everyone more aware of the needs within a community, Sobin said.
Lyttle, with the NAC, said he thinks recessions are a time when development specialists must get creative in thinking of new ways to touch people and new markets to reach.
He said it’s a good time for non-profits to work together and share ideas.
What non-profits can do
Trisha Worthington, executive director of The Park City Foundation, focuses on just that. Her group tries to assist and advise non-profits in the area and she said now is the time to take a more direct approach in marketing and development.
"Don’t rely on direct mail and email pieces," she said. "It’s easy to say no to a mailer, not to a person."
Dahlin echoed that idea.
"Direct mails are so ineffective," he said. "Building relationships with your donor base is a more consistent method of funding."
Scott Loomis, head of the Mountainlands Community Housing Trust, said they did well with mailers this year, but sent them out early so as not to get lost in the rush made in early December. He thinks people are digging deep to help others and has seen friends do well in getting what they need for their group.
Robin Rankin of the Kimball Arts Center said they’ve had success in efforts like "Love the Kimball Day" in which they asked supporters to help with some painting she couldn’t afford to contract out.
Father Bussen said he urges foundations to use their principal if necessary to continue helping people. Without the financial reserves of corporations, he understands the fear people have in dipping into their corpus, but if they expect donors to dig deep, they’ve got to as well.
"Now’s the time to spend the damn thing, that’s why they’ve got it," he said.
Parkites asked to continue caring
Park City Mayor Dana Williams encouraged giving in a resolution last week and said in an interview he has confidence people will still support the arts as budgets tighten.
Rankin said she thinks people will still give to whatever they’re passionate about and the arts have loyal supporters.
"I’ve come to view the arts as a luxury only when times are good," said Teri Orr. "The arts are a necessity when times are bad; we need the arts to lift us up, give us hope and give temporary escape from day to day."
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