Donation fatigue could hurt charities during holidays

When a tsunami ravaged Asian shores earlier this year and Hurricane Katrina viciously smacked the Gulf Coast, many people opened their wallets and provided compassion to those in need.

With the holiday season around the corner, charities are hoping people will remain in the giving spirit.

Joanne Shope, office manager for Christmas Cheer, a nonprofit food pantry in South Lake Tahoe, said the organization is feeling the squeeze of items being diverted.

Shope summed up the problem with, "It's bad, man."

She said Christmas Cheer - which gives resources such as coats and canned goods to low-income families and others year round - receives some of its food from the Food Bank of Northern Nevada. The main shipment arrives before Christmas.

"We don't have very much," Shope said. "We're being hurt, but that's life."

The food bank, based in Sparks, supplies goods to more than 85 charitable agencies in Nevada and neighboring California counties.

A majority of the food is gathered from two drives in the Reno area, according to Janice Hoke, communications manager for the bank.

The holiday food drive begins this month.

Hoke believes that while people might give less, more will donate. While the need is always present, Hoke said soaring gas and medical costs are an extra burden on those in poverty.

"Those things are things that people pretty much have to pay, and what suffers is the food budget," she said.

A report released this week by the Association of Fundraising Professionals - which represents 26,000 members in 172 worldwide chapters - stated 33 percent of charities reported raising fewer funds at the end of October, compared to the same time last year.

The study questioned charities of fundraising numbers in August and October, before and after the hurricanes. In August, 45 percent charities reported collecting more money than at the same time in 2004.

Alphonce Brown, chairman of the association, likened the scenario to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"Just as we saw in 2001 with Sept. 11, the hurricanes have had some short-term impact on giving to nonrelief organizations," he stated in a release. "But we also are very optimistic that by year's end, most charities will end up with very solid fundraising numbers."

The period after the attacks was a blow to the organization, said Christmas Cheer director Wilma Thomas.

"Oh, boy, our money just went down," she said. "It was awful, but we did get through."

Paulette Maehara, president and chief executive officer of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, disagreed with the prediction of fewer donations. She believes fundraising levels will exceed 2004 totals.

"Contrary to what some observers are saying about donors, we have seen very little evidence of donor fatigue so far this year," she said in a statement. "No matter what happens, when the need is greatest Americans have never hesitated to open their hearts and their wallets and support the charities that provide critically needed programs and services every day."

So do representatives with Toys for Tots, a nonprofit agency run through the Marine Corps.

William Kerr has been the South Shore representative for the charity for the past nine years. He doesn't expect a slowdown, but said the holiday shopping days after Thanksgiving will offer a clue to whether people will be frugal.

Thirty Toys for Tots barrels are scheduled to be placed throughout South Shore, Kerr said. Last year's toys were given to 2,000 children in the area, he said.

Kerr expects the same donation level this year.

"I appreciate the people up here because they donate like crazy," he said.

Deb Bandy seems like one of those people. She said she donated to Hurricane Katrina relief funds and also planned to give to a charity during the holiday season.

"I'm not burned out on donating things," she said. "Things happen. That's life."

n Contact reporter William Ferchland at


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