Jewish Journal

Perfect storm for charities— contributions go down and requests go up

by Brad A. Greenberg

November 19, 2008 | 2:50 am

Rachel Bookstein didn't realize just how anxious she'd become wondering whether Beach Hillel in Long Beach would be able to raise the funds it needs this year.

Contributions had declined -- $500 here, $100 there. Folks had been hard hit by the economic crisis and were paring down their philanthropy; many Bookstein spoke with said they intended to give their limited support to cultural and scientific organizations instead right now.

"For us," said Bookstein, the Hillel executive director, "losing those small donations makes a big difference."

The big question was how generous Beach Hillel's three biggest supporting families -- Barbara and Ray Alpert, Diana and Alan Alevy, Jim and Liz Breslauer -- would be this year. Bookstein didn't consciously consider the question -- she believed they would at least maintain their giving, maybe even increase a bit.

Still, in such a tough economic climate, she knew deep down that nothing was certain.

But her instincts were correct. "They've all pledged to not reduce it through the [school] year," Bookstein said. "When I was told by them, an unconscious concern was relieved. I didn't realize I was so very tense. I had pushed out of my mind the fact that it may have been out of their hands."

Indeed, there has been a direct trickle down to nonprofits from the current crisis in the global economy. Even as American automakers Ford and GM are burning through millions a day just to keep the lights on and Wall Street investment firms are disappearing, the endowments of nonprofits are shrinking as well, along with the disposable income of donors who might otherwise support those organizations.

Daily swings in the stock market have been so violent that on a single day the Dow has been down 700 points before lunch, only to close up 300. More often, it's gone the other way, falling about 40 percent from its peak in October 2007. Even last summer, as fuel and food prices surged, unemployment climbed among Jews along with the larger population. But few foresaw a crisis this severe coming.

Today's economic reality is so dismal and its expected recovery so far down the line, that a person could be forgiven for being nostalgic about summer 2008.

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