January 4, 2006
By Chris Lafortune
Though Americans contributed more to charity in 2005 than in the previous year, donations to organizations that serve the poor are down for the third year in a row.
Americans gave about $260 billion nationwide in 2005, $10 billion more in charitable contributions than in 2004, Trent Stamp, president of the service Charity Navigator said. Charity Navigator evaluates the financial health of 5,000 American charities.
Natural disasters in 2005 accounted for most of the increase in giving last year, Stamp said, between the Asian tsunami at the end of 2004, Hurricane Katrina in August and the earthquake in Pakistan in October.
Why hasn't this generosity been mirrored by increases in donations to local programs for the poor?.
"Everybody's got a hypothesis," Stamp said. "Mine are that it's just not the kind of sexy giving people have fallen in love with in this country."
There are no celebrity endorsements for programs that serve the poor, Stamp said, and people get no tote bag in return for giving to their local food bank. There are few benefits and fun runs raising money for those programs.
"There's an argument that it's kind of a type of Band-Aid giving, in a sense that it's not going to solve the problem," Stamp said. "The best you can hope to do with your food bank is feed a lot of people, but they are still going to be hungry next week."
The Greater Chicago Food Depository has noticed a decrease in giving during November and December, its key fund-raising season, Spokeswoman Ruth Igoe said.
As far back as 2001, there have been about 350 food drive held locally in the Chicago area for the depository, and in 2005, there were about 250, Igoe said. During the holiday season, food donations have been down about 8 percent.
The depository networks with 600 soup kitchens, food pantries and shelters throughout Cook County.
"Our member agencies, we are hearing anecdotally, are feeling the pinch," Igoe said. "There are certainly food drives that go directly to our member agencies, and they're also seeing donations go down."
Daniel Borochoff, president of the American Institute of Philanthropy in Chicago, said that while people may be fatigued from giving because of the natural disasters in 2005, the disasters made people aware of the need for charitable giving.
About $5 billion in new giving this year is attributed to natural disaster relief, Stamp said.
The natural disasters in 2005 have gotten people thinking about how their communities might respond in case of a similar emergency, United Way of Metropolitan Chicago Public Relations Director Twania Brewster said.
The United Way of Metropolitan Chicago serves 238 communities in Cook and Lake counties.
The United Way started its campaign to raise money for its general community fund in September and hopes to provide about $60.7 million to community organizations for programs this year, a 9 percent increase over what it gave last year.
"People are more interested in talking about what health and human services means," Brewster said. "People are more interested in figuring out where those resources and supports are in their communities. We're hoping that sort of interest garners giving."
For 2006, Stamp suggested people consider giving to organizations closer to home. The large national organizations are doing well, he said, but money is needed in the community.
"So many people acted after Katrina because there were cold, wet, displaced, hungry, homeless people who needed our help," Stamp said. "But I bet there are homeless people in your community who could probably use your help, too."
There are a lot of working poor who are struggling, Borochoff said, and with people relocated because of Hurricane Katrina, there will be more call for service.
"Even if they're able to increase their giving this year, there may not be enough to take care of all the people that need to be taken care of," Borochoff said.
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