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Donation Fatigue: Budget-Conscious People Think Hard Before Giving To Charity



November 12, 2008

Kathleen Donnelly was at her limit. A young woman raising money for children with cleft palates had solicited her on the way into Shaw's Supermarket in East Hampton. When the young woman tried again on the way out, Donnelly was polite but very firm.

"No, thank you. I said no thank you on the way in, and I'll say it on the way out: No thank you," said Donnelly.

Like so many of us, Donnelly, also from East Hampton, is weary of the constant drum of appeals for charitable donations, requests that are both likely to multiply and become harder to honor as everyone is squeezed by the sagging economy.

"I have given thousands to other causes this year," said Donnelly, who particularly favors organizations that help animals. "To be harassed every time I go in and out of a store ... it makes me crazy. It's obnoxious."

Indeed, whether it's the fundraisers at the grocery-store entrance or the PTO with its wrapping paper or pie sales, the Scouts with cookies and popcorn, your neighbor with the heart association or your colleague seeking pledges for a walk-athon — it's no wonder we may all feel some donation fatigue.

Sue Shectman of West Hartford said all the asking can be bothersome. "I do know I need to support various groups, and I will do my part," said Shectman, who was sitting in a restaurant at Westfarms mall with friend Toby Schuman a few days ago. "But I have a problem. I find it difficult to say no, and at some point I have to say no."

Americans are known for their generosity. We give more than any other developed nation, according to research provided by Sandra Miniutti, vice president of Charity Navigator, a nonprofit organization that evaluates charities. And, Miniutti said, the reassuring news for nonprofits is that in each of the five last recessions dating back to 1973, charitable giving dropped — when adjusted for inflation —by only about 1 percent.

If donors would like to target their dollars for the agencies in need of the most help, Miniutti said, it is usually the food banks, shelters and other human-services agencies that hurt the most during bad times. This is partly because demand continues to increase. In the Hartford area, food pantry and shelter operators already are concerned about meeting the rising needs with what they expect will be fewer donations.

Brian Baker, assistant director of South Park Inn in Hartford, is projecting that the homeless shelter is already down $70,000 in donations for next year's budget, while the demand for shelter is increasing. "We turned away 20 people already today," Baker said at midafternoon Monday. "Every bed is full; we're sleeping people in the lobby, and people are staying longer than in the past."

At Gifts of Love in Avon, Diana Goode, executive director, said they have a waiting list for the first time she can remember, and she is seeing former donors become clients. "This is such a generous community," said Goode, "but people are a lot more cautious this year than in the past. A lot of corporations are coming in at a lower amount."

Toby Schuman, Shectman's friend at the mall, said she realizes "it's going to be very hard" for nonprofits and charities. "I feel sorry for everybody. They are asking at a time when the economy is poor. All of the charities are going to hurt plenty."

Another woman at the restaurant, who asked that she be identified only as Rose from Bristol, said that at times like these she becomes choosy about where she donates. "I used to give to CPTV or the Bushnell once in awhile," said Rose, 'but I think poor people need my money more."

Miniutti said that if it seems like we are being solicited for donations more often, it is because the number of nonprofits in America has greatly increased, by 63 percent in the last decade. She advises researching charities and choosing the ones that are most important to you. (Research on thousands of charities is available at www.charitynavigator.org.) "I'm always saying no," Miniutti admits. "I try to be a little more deliberate in my giving."

Baker, at South Park Inn, said he, too, gets hit all the time by solicitors seeking donations. "It can really wear on people's generous spirit," said Baker.

"It's unfortunate. You feel less and less dollars are out there, so you better be asking for them because somebody else is going to be asking for them. It's almost a competition," said Baker.

Now, two words for charitable organizations: fried dough. The happiest contributors spotted in the last few days were those Saturday morning at Stop & Shop in Cromwell, where fried dough was being sold for $3 by Stop & Shop employees to raise money for food pantries and a senior center.

Liz Johnson of Cromwell said that, at times, all the fundraising "drives me insane," but she was happy to stand in line for fried dough. "It's a nice surprise," she said. "And they don't push you here."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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