July 24, 2008
Economic turmoil puts pressure on Jewish community
(Page 4 - Previous Page)The notion that a butterfly in Singapore could cause a tornado in Kansas seems an accurate parallel for the relationship between the health of industry and charity. When fortunes cool, donors, from the largest corporations and private foundations to the humblest of wage earners, have less money to give away. Soon, so, too, do governments. Eventually, reductions in prosperity trickle down to nonprofits.
"At our dinner last year, there were a number of financial service companies that had historically been big supporters, and when they are firing CEOs and laying off workers, one of the first things that gets cut is charitable donations," Mitch Kamin, president and CEO of Bet Tzedek Legal Services, said shortly after the organization's new fiscal year begins Sept. 1, on the eve of its big annual fundraiser, last Saturday's Justice Ball.
"Our overall fundraising numbers were not down, but I'm concerned about this coming year as companies and major donors and foundations are all looking at the impact of the economy on their giving," Kamin said. "It's not that people are walking away, but funders are cautious about what they support right now and how much they support."
At Project Chicken Soup, which delivers kosher meals two Sundays a month to 105 people in the county living with HIV/AIDS, slightly fewer volunteers have been participating lately. This partly is a symptom of summer, President Paul Chitlik said, but also could be tied to the cost for volunteers of commuting in and delivering the meals. What is clear is that donations, which usually increase this time of year, are flat. Food prices, on the other hand, are "spiraling."
"We have to do more fundraising to cover that," Chitlik said of the charity, which has a budget of about $100,000 and one 30-hour-a-week employee.
December represents the zero hour, the time for assessing just how close nonprofits came to their fundraising targets. This often is the case, but during a downturn in the economy it is especially so. A significant amount of supporters who commit in the first three quarters don't write their charitable checks until after Thanksgiving; many smaller-fund donors don't give at all until reviewing their year-end finances as New Year's Day approaches.
The Federation through mid-July, for example, was outstripping last year's fundraising, receiving donations and pledges of $35.1 million from donors who last year gave $30.3 million to a $49.8 million campaign. But Chairman Stanley Gold said in January he wants to increase fundraising this year by at least 10 percent, and the $14.7 million needed to equal last year's campaign isn't a gimme.
"We are going to be hopeful and just continue to push until Dec. 31, and then do the calculations on what we have," Fishel said.
Many organizations are now evaluating the easier decisions: prioritizing programming, paring travel expenses through reductions in staffing and frequency, looking for ways to work with other agencies. But there is no simple solution to the overall problem, and nobody knows how long the economic turmoil will last.
"Anybody who tells you they know the answer to that question is someone you should turn tail and run away from, because nobody knows," Tobin said. "This is one of those cases where you plan for the worst, and hope for the best."
- SOVA Community Food & Resource Program: (818) 988-7682
- Jewish Family Service: (323) 761-8800
- North Hollywood Interfaith Food Pantry: (818) 760-3575
- Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, (866) YOUR-FED
- Jewish Community Foundation: (323) 761-8700
- Jewish Vocational Service: (323) 761-8855
- Bet Tzedek Legal Services: (323) 939-0506
- Project Chicken Soup: (323) 933-5402
- American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee: (212) 687-6200
- United Jewish Communities: (212) 284-6500