Givers become the needy

By Web Master

By Ashley Wohlgemuth

Contributing Reporter

Foreclosures, high gas prices, cost of living and countless other reasons make it hard for Americans to donate to the less fortunate nowadays.

In the slumping economy, more people are turning to charity for food, shelter and other basic human services. Nonprofit organizations providing these services are now feeling the pinch of what the low worth of a dollar means to most American families.

“The high cost of gas and living does not only affect our kids, but our staff and donors as well,” said Carolyn Millard, development manager of the covenant house in Detroit.

“Many people are trying to cut corners and this has hurt many charities. Our donations are down and since most of our support comes from private individuals, this has hurt us.”

Amy Wynne, former vice president for the Mental Health Association of Michigan, worked at MHAM for five years where the main part of her job was filling grants. Grants can be given to any nonprofit organization by states, counties and cities.

Wynne explained that there used to be the Self Help Clearing House “that would allow anyone at anytime to call and provide contact information for people in need and seeking support groups or any assistance of any kind. The state pulled the funding for this organization and it shut down.”

Wynne said that she had worked at an organization that was run strictly on donations and had no funding whatsoever. That donation was a $15-per-year membership fee. The organization would then provide a newsletter to announce what they were doing and to try to get volunteers.

Private giving nationwide reached $295 billion in 2006. The amount was almost double in 1996. Of that, individuals gave the majority, or $223 billion, followed by foundations and corporations, according to the Urban Institute.

Most nonprofit organizations are volunteer oriented. “It’s very hard to find dedicated people under normal circumstances to donate time, gas and money,” Wynne said. “So with the struggling economy it’s even more horrendous to find people that will donate 15-20 hours a week of their time.”

Wynne also said that the bigger nonprofits are shrinking. “I have noticed over the past two years how healthy or unhealthy some of the nonprofit organizations are,” she said. “Some of them are still around and shrinking; others have just slipped under the radar.

“I have noticed organizations have a need for increased outreach dollars, more demand for certain services. Homeless shelters are turning people away because they are at capacity, and food banks have shortages because the donations have gone down,” she said.

Annual giving in non-recession years increased 4.3 percent, according to the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, but giving has fallen an average of 1.3 percent in the five national recessions since 1973. In the 2001 recession, giving fell 2.2 percent and was down 1.4 percent the following year, after the recession was over.

In June, the Meals on Wheels Association of America reported a 30 percent reduction in the frequency of delivered meals among 277 of its programs. Some programs that once delivered hot meals daily now save gas by making weekly deliveries of one hot meal and four frozen meals. Many program organizers also lament the decreased contact with homebound people.

Wynne explained that the Meals on Wheels program “does require the volunteer to have their own vehicle, pay for their own gas, and the wear and tear on the car (repairs, oil changes, etc.) is for the volunteer to take care of. They are also always advertising for volunteers.”

Ironically, volunteers in 1997 — when gas was $1.26 a gallon — wanted gas mileage reimbursements. Wynne said a lot of the times the organization’s meetings were on the west side of Michigan so consumption of gas was a big issue even then. With the rising gas prices, volunteers need to take more out of their pockets to travel.

School donations are also affected by the struggling economy. According to Wynne, “food drives are struggling because families are only buying just what they need, and using everything they have instead of throwing something out around Thanksgiving time.”

Wynne explained that the Parent Teacher Organization is “a school organization that augments the school’s building budget. They are responsible for fundraising; that helps organize field trips, activities in and out of school buses for the field trips. They also give $100 supply allowance to each teacher for their classrooms.”

Oddly enough, fundraising ­— or the lack thereof — affects children’s education. Field trips and learning outside of the classroom is essential for the young minds of today. Parents who want the best for their children simply cannot give enough to their schools to augment their education.

“Fundraising is a lot more challenging and the PTO is trying to get more people involved but its harder to get families to even donate a little bit extra to the school,” Wynne said.