CHARITIES

Fighting for dollars

The recession’s bite hurts fund raisers

DIANE BRADY November 11 1991
CHARITIES

Fighting for dollars

The recession’s bite hurts fund raisers

DIANE BRADY November 11 1991

Fighting for dollars

The recession’s bite hurts fund raisers

CHARITIES

When seeking money for a worthy cause, Joyce Williams has nearly always turned first to governments. As executive director of the Yellowknife Association for Community Living, which assists mentally handicapped people, Williams relies mainly on the government of the Northwest Territories and Ottawa to pay for projects, staff salaries and other expenses. A small group of loyal donors and an annual rubber-duck race that creates about $11,000 in profit provide the remaining seven per cent of the $400,000 annual budget. Every September, the association sells $5 tickets for each of the 2,500 ducks that volunteers launch into the Yellowknife River for the 1,000-yard race. (The winning duck’s sponsor wins a holiday trip for two.) But the government support that Williams’s organization relies on lessened in April when Ottawa cut project funding by about $123,000. Said Williams: “We have to get out and hustle for money.”

With many Canadians feeling the pinch from the lingering effects of the recession, that hustle may not be enough. Indeed, across the country, organizations that rely on contributions from the public, including food banks, social assistance agencies and cultural organizations, report that fund-raising is increasingly difficult. “It’s quite scary,” said Valerie Everett, a representative for the Vancouver Food Bank. “The amount and quality of our food bag has really gone down.”

Representatives for many of Canada’s more than 63,000 registered charities say that as donations are shrinking, the need for services is increasing. The Easter Seal Society of Ontario, for one, which pays for special equipment, nursing programs, summer camps and other family-support services for 8,000 disabled children, reported a $3-million operating deficit last year. Although society officials say that they do not expect a large increase over last year’s $12.2 million in revenues from public

donations and modest government grants, they add that they need at least $15 million just to balance the budget. To reduce costs, officials say, the society will close down a communications institute that helped children with severe speech problems. “It breaks our heart that it has to go,” said Janet Thompson-Mar, the society’s director of public relations. “There is really not another service to help those kids.” For arts organizations such as the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, the impact of the recession is acute. The orchestra derives about $3 million of its $ 15-million annual budget from private donations, and more than half from boxoffice revenues, royalties and artistic fees. Orchestra staff say that they have to work twice as hard this year to bring in the same amount of money, and expenses are rapidly rising. Said Maryse Forand, the symphony’s director of development: “People are buying fewer tickets and giving less money.”

Making the problem especially acute, says Martin Connell, a chairman of Toronto-based Conwest Exploration Co. Ltd. and of Imagine, a nationwide campaign to improve Canadians’ charitable performance, is the fact that Canadians have always put charity into the government’s hands. “We prefer to give out of taxes instead of our pocketbooks,” said Connell. “But governments are running out of money.” According to figures compiled by the Canadian Centre for Philanthropy, the average Canadian citizen donated only about 0.8 per cent of pretax income to charity in 1990, the most recent year for which figures are available. In sharp contrast, the average American citizen donated 2.2 per cent of their pretax income. Canadian corporations contributed 0.9 per cent of their before-tax profits during the same period, compared with 1.7 per cent by American corporations. Currently, representatives of many charitable organizations say that the modest level of Canadian donations has declined with the country’s economic performance.

Faced with diminishing revenue from tax dollars, nonprofit groups and agencies are taking different approaches to raising donations. “The dollars are out there,” said Carol Anne Esnard, vice-president of marketing for the Ottawa-based United Way of Canada, the country’s largest fund-raising organization. “We just need new ways to get at them.” For officials at Metro United Way in Halifax, that involves making an emotional appeal. In the organization’s current “Count your blessings’’ campaign, advertisements feature stark images of an elderly woman eating cat food, a homeless man sleeping on a park bench, and a battered child. Metro United Way workers say that the campaign, which aims to raise $4 million, is in sharp contrast with previous campaigns that centred on the good works carried out by the 51 charitable agencies affiliated with the organization. Said campaign chairman Carmen Moir: “We stress the needs of people over the need for money.”

Charities are also turning increasingly to the business world not only for money, but also for help in getting their message to the public. Last month, the Canadian Cancer Society, the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation and Toronto-based Kellogg Canada Inc. teamed up to raise cancer awareness. In addition to launching a new breakfast cereal with information about breast cancer on the box, Kellogg officials pledged to donate 50 cents from the sale of each box of cereal to

breast-cancer research and _

education. Canadian Cancer Society officials say that attaching their cause to the cereal will supplement efforts to solicit donations through canvassing and special events. Said Alf Joergensen, national director of fund-raising for the society: “It’s a good way to hit another target market.”

Faced with growing competition for the public’s contributions, charitable groups are becoming more sophisticated in packaging and selling their message. Fund raisers say that the greater availability of computers and recent innovations in software allow

nonprofit organizations to carry out mass mailings, perform desktop publishing and analyse donor lists relatively cheaply. Andrew Spears, the director of development for Hart House, a University of Toronto cultural and athletic centre, says that access to such equipment allows smaller organizations to compete with established charities for funds. Said Spears: “It has placed extremely powerful tools in the hands of small organizations.” As a result, large charities no longer have the clear advantage in putting together professional fund-

raising campaigns. Said the United Way’s Esnard: “Every year, the competition becomes more fierce.”

Still, critics say that new approaches to fundraising will not necessarily change pennypinching attitudes that may be deeply rooted in the Canadian experience. According to Statistics Canada figures, current federal and provincial funding for welfare and cultural services is

about $150 billion a year— more than 30 times the level of private charitable donations. Canadians pay higher taxes than citizens of many other countries and, according to some experts, they expect governments to take care of social, cultural and health needs as a result. “We assume that we are the kinder, gentler nation because we pay the government to provide it,” said Gerard Kennedy, executive director of Toronto’s Daily Bread Food Bank. But, said Imagine’s Connell, “With a huge deficit, the easy days of tapping into a government program are over.”

Still, fund raisers say that a relatively small number of rich contributors remain a lucrative source of charitable donations, especially to large, well-established charities, including major museums, university research foundations and hospitals. For such well-off donors, giving often begins in ballrooms at society galas and dinners held to raise money for prominent charities. One of the oldest and most popular fund-raising events is the annual Brazilian Ball held in Toronto, which charges high-profile guests as much as $25,000 a table to mingle in

a carnival atmosphere. Anna Maria de Souza, the Brazilian-born socialite who created the event in 1966, says that the February ball appeared to be immune to fluctuations in the economy. “We have not felt any impact,” added de Souza, who raised more than $650,000 for the Toronto Symphony through this year’s ball.

Despite concern about the level of private cash donations to their coffers, some fundraising experts say that Canadians are generous with their time. More than five million volunteers donate about one billion hours each year to charitable activities. As well, Canadians are sometimes more inclined to contribute clothing and groceries, rather than cash, to the needy. Kennedy said that this year, about 124,000 people a month are using the Daily Bread Food Bank, up from about 82,000 last year. Last month, Kennedy’s organization had to extend a drive for contributions by five days to obtain the nearly two million pounds of food required for Toronto’s needy. “If Canadians see a need, they can be quick to deliver,” said Kennedy. But in a period of sluggish economic activity and high unemployment, the cries for help are starting to outweigh the offers of assistance.

DIANE BRADY