Area charities fear `donor fatigue' is taking hold

With so much given after several disasters, some say contributors may be tapped out


Its red kettles are synonymous with the "season of giving," but this holiday the Baltimore-area Salvation Army is concerned that would-be donors are holding on to their wallets, tapped out from a year of record giving in the face of a number of natural disasters.

"The season is crucial; it's imperative," said Lafeea Watson, spokeswoman for the Salvation Army of Greater Baltimore.

With billions of dollars donated in the wake of such disasters as the Southeast Asian tsunami, the Gulf Coast hurricanes, landslides in Central America and an earthquake in Pakistan, many local charities fear that fatigue will hurt their year-end efforts to raise money closer to home.

It is unclear what effect the natural disasters have had on local fundraising efforts, but they have certainly raised anxiety, said Peter V. Berns, executive director of the Maryland Association of Nonprofit Organizations.

"The answer will become clearer as people wrap up their giving campaigns," he said.

Giving during the Maryland Food Bank's "all important" year-end collection drive dropped significantly compared with last year, said Kate McGuire, the group's development director.

Last year, at its popular Ravens game event, the organization raised $15,000. This year, $7,400 was donated. Last year, the same event brought in 17,000 pounds of food. This year, it yielded 7,000 pounds .

"We're experiencing, I don't know what you call it, donor fatigue or delayed giving," McGuire said. "Whatever it is, we're alarmed."

Though donations have improved this month, McGuire said, there is still a lot of ground to make up to feed the food bank's 45,000 clients across the state.

"I think some folks are tapped out," she said.

For instance, some schools and companies that typically run food bank fundraisers called this year to say that they had collected for Hurricane Katrina relief and could do no more this year. "Hopefully," McGuire said, "people will realize that there are folks right here in Maryland that are affected too."

But elsewhere, nonprofits are doing very well.

At The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, giving has increased more than 10 percent from this time last year, and that is in addition to $1 million raised solely for Hurricane Katrina relief, said Michael Friedman, vice president of planned giving and endowment.

"Katrina certainly came at the height of our annual fundraising campaign, but there is a very disciplined giving culture within our donor community," he said. "It understands that you give to the annual campaign first, and everything else is on top of that."

In the weeks after Katrina, the United Way of Central Maryland was worried about making its $40 million fundraising projection. But today, the organization is on target to reach the goal after an aggressive campaign, said Patrick Smith, a spokesman for United Way.

"It's a year where we went above and beyond our fundraising push, knowing that Katrina had tapped a lot of donor dollars."

The Baltimore-area Salvation Army is hoping to make this season's projected fundraising amount of $500,000, although it had collected about $250,000 as of Wednesday, about $10,000 less than this time last year, Watson said.

It is not only the recent disasters that have hurt fundraising, she said. Since Sept. 11, charities nationwide have struggled to gain footing.

"Although you may see a panhandler or someone homeless on a corner, I don't think it carries the same impact for some people as the 3,000 people who succumbed to 9/11, or seeing people wade in the water in the Gulf Coast," Watson said.

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