- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 23, 2005

Charitable groups are heading into their critical fall fundraising campaigns, concerned that a wave of disasters will leave Americans feeling tapped out. But most say that past evidence suggests the innate generosity of Americans will win out.

“It doesn’t seem, at this point, as if Hurricanes Katrina and Rita are affecting us,” said Sheila Consaul, spokeswoman for the United Way of America, whose 1,350 local affiliates are just beginning their annual campaigns.

“Based on anecdotal discussions, [members] are reporting that their campaigns are on target,” she said. “We are not experiencing donor fatigue yet. We’ve found that giving increases after disasters, overall.”

U.S. charities, which collect 30 percent to 50 percent of their annual budgets during fall campaigns, this year must go to a population that has dug deep to help out after the Indian Ocean tsunami in December, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the Pakistan earthquake and recent flooding in Guatemala.

Atlanta-based CARE-USA said that donations for the Pakistan earthquake are considerably lower than for the tsunami and that CARE is seeing an even lower response to the Guatemala disaster.

“We had an unprecedented outpouring of support after the tsunami,” said Rick Perera, of CARE-USA. “What is happening now [with Pakistan earthquake donations] is way off. We got 10 times as much in terms of money for the tsunami. But donor fatigue? It is too early to say that.”

Speaking globally, International Committee of the Red Cross spokeswoman Antonella Notari said by telephone from Geneva, “We have not at this stage felt any impact of donor fatigue. We are doing alright.”

According to the trade publication Chronicle of Philanthropy, Americans donated $2.2 billion for September 11 charities, $1.3 billion to help tsunami victims and $1.7 billion in Katrina aid, so far.

That compares with almost $250 billion in total U.S. charitable giving last year. And the Giving USA Foundation, which has spent 50 years researching U.S. philanthropy, said U.S. donations have been constant at about 2 percent of gross domestic product for 50 years.

Henry Goldstein, chairman of the Indiana University-based foundation, said charities reported a drop in donations after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and there were stories that September 11 donations had sucked the cash out of local causes. But Mr. Goldstein said the economy played a more important role.

“The stock market tanked in 2000. The country was already in a recession,” he said.

“I find no evidence that Americans are tapped out. Charity is like love. It is not something you can contain. There is always more. People were already talking about donor fatigue when the Pakistan earthquake happened. Forty thousand people lost their lives. It is really extraordinary how Americans respond. The people talking about donor fatigue are wrong.”

A spokesman for Baltimore-based Catholic Relief Services (CRS) said donations to the group were keeping pace with demand.

“The outpouring of generosity for the tsunami was nothing short of heroic, a true expression of faith and compassion,” said Mark Melia, CRS director of annual giving. “There may be a short-term impact, but not in the long term.”

Charity Navigator, an organization that tracks the efficacy of charitable organizations, said this year’s giving may be affected more by high gasoline prices than by the parade of disasters.

“The economy, more than anything, affects giving. Charitable giving is usually the last thing on the list,” said Sandra Miniutti, spokeswoman for Charitable Navigator.

“People have already given to the tsunami, Katrina and Rita and now the earthquake, and they are being squeezed at the other end by higher gas prices.”

Thomas Tighe, president of Direct Relief International (DRI), said that people continue to donate when they know their money is being spent on the people who need it, not administrative costs and fat salaries. With donations from pharmaceutical companies, DRI leverages every dollar donated into about $30 of medicines on the ground, he added.

“If you do a good job, people find you,” said Mr. Tighe, whose organization had just shipped a planeload of medicines and supplies to the Guatemala flood zone of Hurricane Stan.

“Everyone who depends on donations is worried about how it will shake out at the end of the year. Thirty percent of our budget comes in the last two weeks of the year — after holiday shopping and taxes. We share the concern, but so far we have not seen any donor fatigue.”

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