Competitive world of car donations Nonprofits: Used vehicles have become a precious fund-raising commodity for charitable organizations, which compete to get the word out about their programs and stay ahead of rivals.


October 06, 1997|By Samantha Kappalman | Samantha Kappalman,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

The competition among charities for donations of used cars is heating up so much that one organization is allowing paid advertising for the first time in an effort to stay ahead of its rivals.

Betty Coco, manager of the Cars for a Cure program at the American Cancer Society in Baltimore, said the organization's national bylaws don't allow paid advertising. But because of increased competition with other car donation programs, the national society is allowing a test of paid advertising in the Baltimore area.

"Car donations are becoming one of the largest fund-raisers for nonprofits, so there is competition out there," Coco said.

She said 2,353 vehicles were donated to Cars for a Cure in the fiscal year that ended Aug. 31, or 1,093 more than the previous year. The vehicles were sold at auction for $525,000, which goes to cancer research, patient services and education.

For the region that includes Rhode Island, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Washington, Virginia, West Virginia, North and South Carolina, and Georgia, about 6,000 cars were donated in the fiscal year that just ended.

"The majority of cars come in November and December, because that's when people need to get tax deductions, before the first of the year," Coco said. "With our advertising, we are focusing on targeting the market. We find that the majority of donators do it for the cause."

The Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation center in Baltimore also advertises for used vehicles, including airplanes.

"We would be willing to take an airplane if someone wanted to give one," said Capt. Don Smith, the center's administrator.

Smith said the money from thrift stores and the vehicle donation program, which also accepts cars and boats with trailers, supports the 108-bed rehabilitation center. The center, which helps men struggling with drug and alcohol addiction, is self-sufficient.

In the past year, the Salvation Army received 1,653 cars, which were sold at auction for $423,000, an average of $256 a vehicle, Smith said.

"We get some clunkers, but we also get cars that are in pretty good shape," he said. "We try to invest in advertising to keep people aware that we take cars; on the radio, through direct mail and in our thrift stores.

"A lot of people are getting involved with it. Every time another group gets involved, it means we have to stay active to let them know we're still out there."

The Rev. Wright Proctor of the Stillmeadow Christian Church in XTC Baltimore said he donated his 1984 Plymouth station wagon to the Salvation Army last year because he is worried about men's lives and because it is a Christian organization.

"Being involved in drug and alcohol recovery, I do what I can to help," he said.

The Maryland chapter of the Volunteers of America has seen a decrease in numbers this year for its vehicle donation program, called Enterprise.

Lisa Hawkins, director of marketing for Volunteers of America in Lanham, said there is a growing number of competitors for everything to do with nonprofit organizations, and that is why numbers are down.

Hawkins also said the donations are directly related to the resources put into the program.

"Funding opportunities are limited, and agencies are having to compete for more public dollars," she said.

In fiscal 1997, which ended July 31, Volunteers of America received 1,219 vehicles.

Muriel Barclay, Enterprise program director, said most of the vehicles need work. The organization, like most that have the program, will accept vehicles regardless of condition.

"Most of the vehicles are in need of some repair," Barclay said. "People are just tired of investing money in the car. If there is something major to be replaced, they say, 'OK, I'll just donate it.' "

For the 1997 fiscal year, the organization earned $117,000 from the auction, $25,000 and 157 cars down from the year before.

Hawkins said the Volunteers of America organization does some advertising on radio and in newspapers, but that word of mouth also is an effective way for people to hear about the program.

"People call and say their neighbor down the street donated a car, and we also get some repeat car donors," she said.

"We have to work with people because it's a big deal to some to donate a vehicle. Some people are very close to their cars. We try and promote that this is an easier way to get rid of it instead of advertising to sell it and going through the time and effort to find a buyer," Hawkins said.

One of the benefits of donating a vehicle is the tax deduction a donor can receive.

J. Ronald Shiff, a tax attorney with Gordon, Feinblatt, Rothman, Hoffberger and Hollander in Baltimore, said the deduction is worthwhile only for some tax brackets, and only if donors itemize deductions on their tax returns.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.