Charities Need You to Give

By Barbara Risto

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As we were gathering material for this Planned Giving edition and talking to charities, it became clear that many are feeling the pinch of the economic downturn - some more than others. But almost all have experienced changes in the sources of their funding and the giving habits of their donors and supporters.

A recent survey of charities and foundations indicated drops in funding this year of about 35% on average. This drop mostly reflects donations from private individuals. Some, however, are reeling from government or funding agency cuts as deep as 90%.

Some charities, whose funding depends primarily on agency or government funding, have even had to close their doors. Those that have a mix of agency, government and private funding seem to have weathered the storm the best. In a few cases, a cut in one source was covered by an increase from another source – but those were rare situations.

Catriona Johnson, Executive Director of the Victoria Epilepsy and Parkinson’s Centre (VEPC) says their organization’s summer newsletter attracted 20% less than it did last year but saw an increase in pledge amounts for their recent SuperWalk for Parkinson's. She attributes this to the extra hard work of teams to bring in donations this year.

John Hughes, Manager of Operations and Development for Craigdarroch Castle says, “We've just completed our high season and the donation boxes look to be down about 35-40% at this point. Those that have visited are spending less in the gift shop and are by-passing the donation boxes or putting less in.”

John hopes to see an improvement as they go into their Christmas program but is afraid they may still come up short this year.

Numerous charities depend on funding from foundations but even that resource has dwindled. The investments overseen by foundations are producing less interest than before and with less money to hand out, are having to make some critical decisions who they will fund and for how much.

Jane Sheaff, Executive Director Seniors Serving Seniors says donations from private sources have remained constant, but grants from foundations were down 90%. Luckily, they were able to secure funding from another source so that services and operational hours did not need to be cut this year.

Vancouver Foundation is one of the largest philanthropic organizations in BC. They fund a wide variety of community initiatives province-wide from arts and culture to education, from environment to children and youth, from animal welfare to health and medical research and social issues. They hold over 1200 endowment funds for individuals, families, non-profits and corporations. In 2008, they distributed almost $60 million to community projects across BC.

Lisa Pullan, Vice President, Development and Donor Services, says Vancouver Foundation has seen a decrease in contributions from donors of about 35% since the economic downturn.

“To add to that, we've had many more organizations applying to us for grants as they’ve experienced greater demands for their services, struggles with shifts in government funding, and are challenged with their own fundraising efforts. 

“We made a decision to continuing fund community projects as much as we could this year, despite the reduced intake of donations and the declines in our investment fund. We felt that now, more than ever, communities and their charities needed our support,” says Lisa.

“Regardless of the amount we have available to fund worthy community projects, our staff and volunteers scrutinize and evaluate each grant request closely.  This process gives us the confidence that we’re making the most effective use of the dollars.  With less available to grant this year, the importance of that process has been underscored.”

Despite the decreases in contributions, they've still managed to do relatively well in this climate, says Lisa. “Vancouver Foundation has a 66 year history in the community, and many generous donors with tremendous foresight have left gifts in their wills to support the community.  They're interested in leaving a positive legacy, and a gift that will endure in perpetuity.” 

Most of the non-profits surveyed said their donations usually increase in the final quarter of the year.

The Victoria Epilepsy and Parkinson’s Centre, for example, usually sees an increase in donations around the holiday season, and attendance goes up a bit during the last couple of weeks in December at Craigdarroch Castle, with families taking advantage of their Christmas music program.

Many charitable organizations hope that this year’s Christmas season will help shore up the shortfall.

“I think it is a time when we look at our own families and realize how lucky we are,” says Catriona from VEPC. “I think it is also a period that people associate with giving.”

Traditionally, the last quarter of the calendar year is also the busiest in terms of donations for Vancouver Foundation.

This year has been a troublesome time for charities. As they struggle to carry on their work, they are being called upon to do more - with less.

As we approach the end of 2009, we at Senior Living encourage everyone to give as generously as you can to the charities that are meaningful to you.

Some readers may be in a position to bequeath entire estates to charity, while others may struggle to come up with just $10 – but if we all give what we can (even volunteer time), we can make a difference.

Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

As we approach the final months of 2009, let’s all see what we can do to make a difference for the charities in our communities.



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