c. 1998 Religion News Service
WASHINGTON _ Most U.S. charities had a bumper year in 1997, according to new figures, but the rosy glow may already be evaporating as fund-raisers agonize over whether the erratic stock market will discourage donors.
In 1997, with the stock market still soaring, donations to religious and other charities rose 13 percent, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s annual survey of private giving to the 400 largest charities in the country. The survey was released Monday (Nov. 2).
But the future looks uncertain.”Initially I was optimistic there would not be a huge change,” said Angela Sosdian, director of gift planning for the Nature Conservancy, at No. 14 the most financially successful environmental group on the annual list.
“But the first four months of our fiscal year, from July 1, have not been as strong as we’d hoped. We hope that people are just waiting to see where the market goes,” she said.
Religious-based charities, especially those active in providing human services, were among the top dollar-catchers.
The Salvation Army came out on top of the overall list for the sixth year in a row, raising $1.2 billion with an impressive increase of 16 percent, way ahead of the 2.3 percent inflation rate. Close on its heels came the YMCA of the USA. The Salvation Army raised more than twice as much money as the YMCA, but the Y took in enough to bump the American Red Cross from second to third place. And Catholic Charities, with $425 million, came in seventh.
Like the Nature Conservancy and many other charities, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, which moved up to 44th on the Chronicle list from 51st, attributes much of its fund-raising increases over the past two years to the robust state of the stock market.
“It’s doubtful the increases will be the same,” said James Minow, development director for the family planning group. “We’ll have a smaller number who feel they can give more this year.”
The upsurge in 1997 giving is a measure of the health of the economy, but the Chronicle of Philanthropy rankings also reflect the reliable popularity of a few big charities that the public perceives as dependable and trustworthy.
Some smaller charities made a splash in the charity world with extraordinary percentage increases. Though Harvard and Stanford remain regulars in the top 10, giving to a less-well-known school went up 647 percent. The school, Brooklyn-based Polytechnic University, has only 3,600 students, all commuters, mostly science and engineering majors, from families with an average income of $25,000.
A lot of that percentage gain had to do with one enormous gift, a $175 million bequest from Donald Othmer and his wife, Mildred. Donald Othmer taught chemical engineering at Polytechnic for more than 50 years, and he and his wife made their millions with the advice of financial wizard and friend Warren Buffett.
The gift has encouraged others. Polytechnic’s board of trustees pitched in with $23 million. The university board includes Arthur Martinez, the chairman of Sears, Roebuck, and Paul Soros, brother to billionaire George Soros and a 1950 Polytechnic graduate.
Though the American Cancer Society was the top disease advocacy group in donations, giving to the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation International rose by 42 percent to $23.7 million, up from a mere $3 million four years ago.
Sue Bliss, the foundation’s associate executive director, attributes the group’s success to its narrow focus: finding a cure. “We are truly driven by people who want to cure the disease,” Bliss said, particularly parents of children with diabetes. Since the 1921 discovery of insulin as a treatment, there have been few major breakthroughs.
The success of these two comparatively small nonprofit groups forecasts what looks likely to work even if there are fewer magnanimous market millionaires _ encouraging donor loyalty and getting across the idea of a specific goal.
Fund-raising strategy has shifted over the past few years away from direct mail and special events, which can be expensive, toward building relationships with people who are likely to be major donors, people with personal loyalty to the institution or the cause.
The Salvation Army, for example, didn’t collect all of that $1.2 billion in quarters from red kettles on street corners, and other charities are looking to the group as the expert in the planned giving field, seeking bequests and helping set up charitable trusts.
Another big trend is toward donations that bring the donor more than a tax deduction and a warm feeling. Although giving to arts groups shot up by 51 percent, museums and performing companies report they’re finding it is much harder to pry donations out of corporations than it was 10 years ago.
A lot of big companies have largely dumped straight philanthropic giving in favor of “cause-related marketing” by which they can use a charity’s name in their publicity and target the charity’s supporters.
The Chronicle of Philanthropy, a biweekly newspaper covering the charity world, has been compiling the Philanthropy 400 list since 1991.
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