Traverse City Record-Eagle

November 30, 2008

Demand for charity is on the rise

But charitable giving is down as people conserve


LANSING -- Most charitable programs face a dilemma as the holiday season approaches: Demand for donations exceeds supply.

Michigan Nonprofit Association statistics show 71 percent of 300 participating organizations said demand for core services has increased over the past 12 months, while just 65 percent met the demands.

In addition, half of the organizations reported a decline in financial support for their efforts.

"The state of the economy has affected nonprofits in at least two ways: It has been a reason behind increased demand, and it has played a role in decreased financial and in-kind support," said Lisa Sommer, spokeswoman for the nonprofit association.

Ruth Blick, marketing director for Goodwill Industries of Northern Michigan in Traverse City, said a few years ago 54 percent of its funding was covered by government, but since it built a shelter to house 94 people, government support hasn't increased enough to meet local needs.

Donations to Goodwill's retail stores are up by 10 percent, but demand for food, clothing and other essentials has tripled, Blick said.

Mark Peters, of Goodwill Industries of Central Michigan's Heartland in Battle Creek, said that although demand for donations has increased by 10 percent, donation levels probably won't be as high as last year, mainly because more people can't afford to contribute.

"Times are getting tougher for folks, so they can't go out and buy new clothing," Peters said. "They're keeping what they have."

The Central Michigan region of Goodwill collected about 7 million pounds of clothing so far this year, although the number likely will drop next year due to economic strains, he said.

Julie Reynolds, spokeswoman for St. Vincent Catholic Charities in Lansing, said her organization increasingly relies on public donations because of declining federal, state and local funding.

"There's never a problem with finding people that need help," Reynolds said. "The challenge is in finding the resources to provide assistance."

St. Vincent has doubled its services to accommodate about 155 homeless and needy people, adding programs to help single fathers, couples with children and adults with mental dependencies and disabilities, she said. Yet because of decreased funding, the organization has a waiting list.

Courtney Bowerman writes for Michigan State University's Capital News Service.