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Archive for Thursday, December 15, 2005

U.S. charities end challenging year impressed by donors’ zeal

December 15, 2005

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— Donor fatigue? Not this year.

Even after the outpouring of donations for the Indian Ocean tsunami and Hurricane Katrina, holiday giving is robust this season and 2005 could well set an overall record, U.S. charity officials are reporting.

"It seems to be a phenomenal year," said Stacy Palmer, editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy. "Donor fatigue is something not many charities are seeing."

By any measure, it's been a year of immense challenges for relief groups, and donors have responded. The year began with Americans pitching in to help faraway victims of the tsunami; those private gifts added up to $1.6 billion. Later came Katrina, the nation's worst natural disaster of modern times, prompting donations that are nearing the $3 billion mark.

Some charities feared their holiday season fundraising would suffer as donors decided they had given enough. Thus far, however, end-of-year giving is generally strong, although some local charities remain worried because they have more needy people to serve.

In Lansing, Mich., for example, more than 2,200 residents have applied to get donated toys and groceries this season - up 20 percent from last year. The local Salvation Army branch had to turn away hundreds of families after exhausting a fund to help pay utility bills.

"People have been incredibly generous," said John Keightley, a spokesman for Catholic Charities USA. "But as we hit the giving season, our local agencies are nervous whether they're going to meet their goals. We're all challenged to stretch, to think about people who don't have enough."

In Omaha, Neb., the Salvation Army branch says it is running slightly ahead of last year's pace in seeking a record $2.2 million for its holiday campaign - coincidentally the same amount the Army raised in Omaha in response to Katrina. The holiday funds assist hometown poor with heating bills, and provide them with mittens and winter hats.

"We had some donors say they couldn't afford to give as much at the end of year because of Katrina, but we also have new donors because of it - who saw we were doing good work," said spokeswoman Susan Eustice.

The Salvation Army was among several national charities raising more in response to this year's hurricanes than for any previous disaster - $295 million compared to $86 million after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. Catholic Charities has received $133 million for hurricane relief, compared to $32 million for Sept. 11.

All such figures were dwarfed by the hurricane relief fund of the American Red Cross, which has surpassed $1.8 billion - a record for any U.S. charity for a specific disaster campaign.

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