- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Cash-strapped but still want to do good? You are not alone. More and more Americans are lining up to volunteer for charities instead of giving them money.

“We’re seeing a big increase in individuals who want to give but don’t necessarily have the financial means to do so at this time,” says Madye Henson, president and chief executive of Greater DC Cares, a coordinator of volunteering and business philanthropy in the Washington area.

The group usually trains 250 to 300 new volunteers a month. Last week, however, 200 new volunteers were trained — in just one day.

Chesapeake Bay Foundation, an environmental group aimed at cleaning up the Bay, is no stranger to using volunteers.

“Even if you can’t write a check, there are so many ways you can help,” says Heather Tuckfield, volunteer program manager for the group.

“Even in January and February, when there is less hands-on work, you can still write petitions, state your opinion to your legislators, enroll in our pledge program” — for example, promising to ride your bicycle to work instead of driving, Ms. Tuckfield says.

When the weather warms up, the group offers opportunities such as planting trees, raising oysters and collecting shore trash.

Another way to help without draining the bank account is to give in-kind donations to charities that accept them. A prime example is Goodwill, which accepts donated clothing for resale in its thrift shops.

“Generating donated goods will be our focus for 2009,” says Brendan Hurley, spokesman for Goodwill.

Not only will Goodwill accept donations at its stores, but this year it also will feature school and company clothing drives and additional drop-off locations.

“We want to make it as simple and convenient as possible,” Mr. Hurley says.

Whether a charity is looking to increase volunteerism or in-kind donations — or both — a look at the overall business plan is vital for survival, says Eva Aldrich of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.

“Take a look at your mission statement and make sure it’s clear and updated,” Ms. Aldrich recommends.

Then make sure communication with donors is good, because no matter how much in-kind donations and volunteer opportunities increase, cash is still always needed.

“It’s not an either-or,” Ms. Aldrich says.

Adds Ms. Henson: “There will always be day-to-day operations that cost money. But beyond that, there are ways to make up for monetary shortfall with additional volunteers.”

Her group helps charities identify where volunteers can be used.

“We help nonprofits think outside the box,” she says.

Nevertheless, with the economic outlook for 2009 being less than stellar, many charities might not make it no matter how many changes and improvements they implement to their business plans.

“A lot of good charities rely on revenue models that are built on 100 percent cash donations,” Mr. Hurley says. “I think we’ll see several of them closing down this year.”

Ms. Aldrich, though, doesn’t want to put a number on possible philanthropic causalities.

Instead, she points to the good news. Research shows donors are continuing to give even during tough times.

The Giving USA Foundation, a group that tracks philanthropy trends, has done research that goes back to 1967. It shows Americans continue to give through thick and thin.

Even during tough times, such as in 2002, charities only saw a 2.7 percent drop in donations.

“Americans are very philanthropically minded,” Ms. Aldrich says. “That doesn’t change just because the economy is down.”

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