Charities expect an uncertain year

  • December 4, 2008
{mosimage}TORONTO - For charities that rely on big donors, the stock market crash has made uncertainty the first principle of budgeting as they face a new year.

“Obviously Covenant House and every other charity are looking at their plans and how to approach this kind of time,” said Covenant House spokesperson Rose Cino. “Everyone is in the same boat. Would that we all had a crystal ball.”
“It may be harder for some people to donate this year, especially if they’re donating from their assets, from their portfolio base,” said ShareLife executive director Arthur Peters.

Charities have benefited the last two years from more generous tax treatment of gifts of stock. Large charities have relied on big donors giving substantial gifts to kickstart campaigns. At St. Michael’s Hospital Foundation , 10 per cent of their donors give between 80 and 90 per cent of the money, according to St. Michael’s Hospital Foundation president Alayne Metrick.

At the same time ordinary Canadians — small donors — are likely to continue giving, even increase their gifts, during hard times. An Ipsos-Reid poll released Nov. 17 found that 69 per cent of Canadians plan to maintain their charitable giving, and another 13 per cent say they will increase their gifts.

For most charities it’s too soon to tell where the money is going to come from next year.

“If people lose their jobs they’re not going to be able to give,” said Metrick.

For a small charity like Silent Voice , a Catholic ministry to the deaf, the challenge of hard times is keeping the attention of a small donor base when all the big charities are screaming for help.

“It’s about keeping your position in front of your donor base,” said Silent Voice development director David Cuthbert. “You can easily disappear.”

In 33 years of fund-raising Cuthbert has noted that most people understand the needs don’t end because the market took a turn. Donors gave $560,000 last year to Silent Voice, its best year ever. Cuthbert’s goal for next year is to maintain that level of support.

Tough times won’t change the message for ShareLife, said Peters. The appeal to donors is still based on concrete examples of what 34 ShareLife agencies do for people.

“We will continue to show how our agencies make a difference in the lives of people,” said Peters.

Having just missed last year’s fund-raising goal of $14.3 million, ShareLife is aiming for the same amount again in 2009.

Like many charities, Providence Health Care is coming off a record year in 2007-2008, having raised $2.5 million. It was also Providence’s 150th anniversary, which was tied to a major campaign to fund new programs.

“There should and likely will be a drop,” said Providence Health Care Foundation president Jennifer Stewart. But the beat goes on.

“The needs of Providence don’t go away just because the market crashed. We have to redouble our efforts,” she said.

At Covenant House, where 80 per cent of the $18 million annual budget comes from private donations, there’s no talk of a drop.

“When times are tough people do continue to give,” said Cino.

The new frontier for Covenant House is online giving.

“It’s a new way to connect with donors and we’re seeing very positive results,” Cino said.

For Franciscans, 900 years as mendicants has taught them that those who know suffering are the most generous, said Franciscan Friar Rick Riccioli.

“Parts of the country that are hardest hit by the economy tend to be the most generous overall,” he said.

When times were good Riccioli’s Franciscan-run parish of St. Bonaventure committed itself to a new and expensive Energy Star-rated roof. Now the parish is toning down Christmas decorations and other extras.

The best argument Riccioli has in favour of continued donations is that donations bring people together as a community.

“Collectively, we can do something that individually we can’t do,” he said. “Every family that is contributing towards the roof is contributing to infrastructure. We are keeping this company employed. We have people on our roof who are working who might not have work in this economy. That we can do as a community. We have strength in numbers.”

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