Charitable giving on the decline

By Justin Reedy

Since the post-9/11 surge of charitable donations around the country, giving has been on the decline, making things difficult for nonprofit organizations in Clayton County and the rest of metro Atlanta.

About half of the metro area's nonprofits reported a decline in contributions from individuals, corporations, foundations and government agencies last year, according to a survey completed recently by the United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta. But with the country's economy in decline, that drop in funding for charities n many of which provide social services to people in need n has coincided with a jump in demand for those services.

"With the tough economic times, a lot of organizations are seeing increased demand for services, so it can be a double hit," said Miranda Austin, the director of development for the Georgia Center for Nonprofits, a support organization for charities across the state.

The demand for those kinds of social services n whether donated food or clothes, short-term rental assistance, or temporary housing n has started to extend across socio-economic boundaries.

"People who were able to help before are now the ones needing help," said Debbie Swank, executive director of Hearts to Nourish Hope, a Clayton County organization which operates a food pantry and alternative education center for area youth.

"More than ever, I think we all know people who are hurting in one way or another because of this economy, and the numbers certainly back that up," said Betty Hanacek, vice president of United Way 211, which promotes telephone access to community services in metro Atlanta. "What's apparent and disturbing is that more of our calls are from middle class families who themselves never thought they would need help from others, and more callers are desperate. The resources just aren't available to help in many cases."

Charitable organizations here in Clayton County have felt the pinch of the current recession, as well, making it hard for some to operate at the level needed by the community.

"With contributions down overall about 46 percent since Sept. 11, 2001, it's been difficult to keep up the level of service that we provide," said Phil Kouns, executive director of Rainbow House, a shelter in Jonesboro for abused and neglected children. "What we've seen happen with the economy and also with the growing number of worthy charities in this county has stretched what people can give."

The inability to give to charity hasn't just included individuals, nonprofit officials say.

"I think we've seen a decrease in individual giving as well as support of our fundraising efforts," said Bernadette Highway, the director of education for the Southern Crescent Sexual Assault Center. "A lot of people just said, ?This has been a bad year for my business, and I can't afford to sponsor a team for the golf tournament fundraiser.'"

"When things started to get tough, people were saying that individual giving would be down the most," Austin added. "But foundation and corporate giving has seen the biggest decline. Most of a foundation's holdings are in stocks, so when the stock market drops they don't have as many assets."

With charitable revenue declining so much during the recession, nonprofits are having to reorganize to stay afloat while still meeting demand for their services. The Southern Crescent Sexual Assault Center, for instance, had to reduce its staff last year and consolidate some duties among the remaining staff.

"Fortunately we're still holding on," Highway said. "We're still able to offer the same service as before."

But most nonprofits should be able to come out on the other side of the recession with a better idea of how to manage their funding, Austin said.

"I think this will change the way nonprofits operate and change the way they do business," she said.