[Hpn] Charities are reporting slow season for giving

chance martin streetsheet@sf-homeless-coalition.org
Fri, 09 Nov 2001 09:57:44 -0800


Page 9A 

Charities are reporting slow season for giving

By Haya El Nasser

Terrorism is claiming new victims in the USA: non-profit groups.

The Sept. 11 attacks forced many organizations to postpone or cancel
fundraising events. Donations are dipping because the economy, wobbly even
before the attacks, has taken a steeper downturn. And Americans have already
donated $1.1 billion to victims of terrorism.

Now, there's anthrax.

The string of anthrax-tainted letters in the mail system shut down post
offices in parts of the country, disrupted mail delivery and made an
increasing number of Americans fearful of opening their mail. That's bad
news for millions of direct-mail appeals for donations that are flooding
mailboxes during the busiest fundraising quarter of the year.

''People are plain afraid to open the mail,'' says Martha Pickett, chief
operating officer of America's Second Harvest, a Chicago-based hunger relief
organization that is sending 1 million letters this week to attract new

Charities are devising contingency plans in case direct-mail appeals fall
flat. Groups are:

* Redesigning envelopes to make sure the organization's name is clearly
displayed. ''We've placed CARE's name much more prominently on the outside
of the envelope,'' says Marilyn Grist, senior vice president of the
Chicago-based international relief organization. The group's fundraising is
about 14% behind last year's.

* Switching from white to colored envelopes because all the known
anthrax-tainted letters came in white envelopes. ''Use bright colors,''
Russell Weigand, chairman of the American Association of Fundraising
Counsel, says he is advising direct-mail senders. He also says that
follow-up phone calls may be needed.

* Replacing letters with postcards if people continue to be leery of opening
envelopes. Second Harvest is considering such a move.

* Encouraging more donations on the Internet, a medium with extra appeal
because of anthrax fears. ''The American public is more comfortable making
contributions online,'' says Denny Bender, spokesman for Habitat for
Humanity International, a builder of affordable housing based in Americus,
Ga. The organization, which gets a quarter of its annual operating budget of
$250 million through direct mail, is encouraging regular donors to sign up
for electronic fund transfers to bypass the mail completely.

''We're still just a couple of weeks into this phenomenon,'' Bender says.
''It's hard to truly assess what the impact will be.''

Fundraisers say small non-profit groups face a tougher sell than larger
non-profits because they rely mostly on individual donations and less on
gifts from corporate donors and large foundations.

''Giving is definitely down,'' says Nancy Yancy, executive director of
Rainbow Village, a homeless shelter in Norcross, Ga., near Atlanta.

A benefit auction in October raised $20,000, well below its $50,000 goal.
Rainbow Village has lowered its expectations for November fundraising from
$50,000 to $30,000.

''So many people have been laid off,'' says Yancy, who contrasts the amount
Americans gave terrorism victims with the struggle her organization is
having raising much smaller sums. ''We have homeless people, we have hungry
people in our midst all the time.''

 Copyright 2001 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this material is
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