Local Charities Fear a Drop in Their Fundraising

Times Staff Writer

Charities across Southern California are anxious that their own funding could fall perilously low while America’s attention, and charitable giving, is focused on the ravaged Gulf Coast.

Already there are signs that the unprecedented generosity directed at victims of Hurricane Katrina is having an effect on nonprofit groups that rely on private donations to survive.

In Riverside County, several staffers at the Red Cross chapter were recently let go because funding had been steeply declining.

A lavish fundraiser for a cultural arts center set to take place at a Simi Valley horse ranch Sept. 18 was canceled due to poor ticket sales.

And officials at the United Way of Greater Los Angeles are worried that the focus on Katrina could hurt corporate and individual giving just as their biggest fundraising push of the year gets underway.


“It’s important that people realize that the nonprofits that are here are providing resources for a critical safety net that would not otherwise be there,” said Elise Buik, the group’s president and chief executive. “We have 90,000 homeless right here in Los Angeles County.”

Donations to help hurricane survivors are pouring in at record rates, analysts say, outpacing giving after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the Southeast Asian tsunami.

As of Thursday, the American Red Cross had received $503 million in gifts and pledges for hurricane relief, the charity’s website reported.

Donations to United Way of America are “in the millions,” said Sheila Consaul, the nonprofit’s spokeswoman. The money is coming in so fast that the organization hasn’t yet gotten around to tallying it, Consaul said.

“We’re definitely getting an overwhelming response,” she said.

Numerous other individual and corporate funds have been established to help the more than 500,000 displaced by the disaster.

Nonprofit officials call the response commendable. But at the same time, they are anxious that people will neglect myriad other causes and issues funded solely by private donors that provide services for the needy.

“People are saying things like, ‘I can’t do it this year; check with me next year, Ray,’ ” said Raymond Cruz, who heads the fundraising arm of the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center.

Ticket sales for the center’s annual JazzVino fundraiser have been so slow that his committee decided to cancel the affair rather than just break even, he said.

Donations had already slowed as a result of tsunami giving and virtually came to a halt after Hurricane Katrina, Cruz said.

Last year, the center sold 600 tickets at $125 each, compared with 200 this year, he said. Money raised from the event pays for children’s programs at the cultural center.

“If you have only 200 people show up, it’s a nice party, but sponsors don’t get a bang for their buck,” he said. “So we decided to wait until next year, when times hopefully are better.”

Cruz doesn’t believe funding will stay depressed for long.

“People are going to continue to support the arts,” he said. “But not necessarily this year.”

Nearly all of the dollars flowing to the Riverside County Red Cross -- $225,000 in the past 10 days -- is designated for Hurricane Katrina victims, said fundraising director Sandy Lowry. Even before the hurricane, donations for local operations had dipped so low that the chapter two weeks ago laid off five of its 17 staff members, Lowry said.

The organization will soon close one of its three offices in Riverside County and may be forced to close a second, Lowry said. She doesn’t fault givers, who often have limited dollars to give. But she suggests that donors consider splitting their donation between the national effort and local operations. People can do so by indicating the percentage to go to each in the memo section of their check, she said.

“We respond to over 300 single-family fires a year, put the victims up in hotels and give them free services,” she said. “But we can’t sustain that if we don’t get some local dollars.”

At the United Way of Greater Los Angeles, there are concerns because corporations and businesses typically launch their in-house United Way campaigns in September, said Buik, the president. Several have notified the charity that they are involved in hurricane relief efforts, she said.

“We don’t know for sure what impact it will have, but it could pull away from our local funding efforts,” Buik said, pointing out that “9/11 also hit in the fall, and we did see an impact on local fundraising.”

The organization saw a $3-million drop in workplace donations in the year following the terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., she said.

Last year, the group raised $58.5 million.



How to help

The following agencies are among those providing assistance to hurricane victims:

Adventist Community Services, (800) 381-7171

* American Red Cross, (800) HELP NOW (435-7669) English, (800) 257-7575 Spanish

* America’s Second Harvest, (800) 771-2303

* Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund,

* Catholic Charities USA, (800) 919-9338

* Christian Reformed World Relief Committee, (800) 848-5818

* Church of Scientology, (800) 435-7498,

* Church World Service, (800) 297-1516

* Convoy of Hope, (417) 823-8998

* Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, (800) 638-3522

* Humane Society of the United States, (888) 259-5431; (800) HUMANE1 (486-2631)

* International Medical Corps, (800) 481-4462,

* Jewish Federation, (323) 761-8200

* Mennonite Disaster Service, (717) 859-2210

* Operation USA, (800) 678-7255

* Salvation Army, (800) SAL-ARMY (725-2769)

* United Methodist Committee on Relief, (800) 554-8583

* World Relief, (800) 535-5433

Source: Associated Press