Little "Katrina Effect" On Donations

October 21, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — Charitable giving didn’t dry up here after Hurricane Katrina’s wrath unleashed a flood of donations to the devastated Gulf Coast region, but some area organizations have experienced a slowdown in monetary contributions.

Michael Packer, station manager at WYCE 88.1 FM, said he’s seen a decline in donations to the community radio station over the last couple months. WYCE is an affiliate of the Grand Rapids Community Media Center. The station just completed its fall fund drive and for the first time didn’t meet its fundraising goals. He said the goal was $50,000 but the fall fund drive fell $10,000 short of that.

“I think there are a lot of factors: the hurricanes, gas prices going up and people kind of digging in for the winter,” he said. “We’ll probably have to look at raising funds from businesses, going directly to them and pleading for donations. We’ll cut back in some ways, too, so it will be a combination of things.”

Heart of West Michigan United Way, however, appears to be faring just fine. Tanya Berg, vice president of marketing, said the organization is encouraged by the contributions made thus far. The organization’s fall campaign has brought $2.8 million in the door, and donations from area businesses are actually up slightly over the prior year. Its fund-raising goal is $14.4 million.

However, Berg said that has to be tempered with the challenges being experienced by companies in the automotive sector and other influences, such as the increase in gas prices and natural gas prices for home heating. 

All of those factors impact family budgets. Some of those factors certainly can and very well may have an impact on Heart of West Michigan’s campaign this year, she said, but it’s just a little premature to project where the organization is going to land.

“Obviously, there have been a lot of significant issues, including Hurricane Katrina and other natural disasters recently that everyone is mindful of, but at least we’re encouraged by the early results we’re seeing,” Berg said. “I think that demonstrates that West Michigan is a very generous community and that people do recognize that there are significant needs right here locally.”

She believes West Michigan residents are probably donating to local charities as well as to charitable organizations serving the devastated Gulf Coast region, rather than choosing one over the other.

“I can’t speak for other nonprofits but we know that many, many individuals in our community are donating either financial aid, or time or products to help support the Gulf region. But at least our early campaign results indicate that they’re also continuing their commitment to our community through their United Way giving.”

She noted that even in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Heart of West Michigan United Way didn’t see much of a falloff in charitable giving.

Tom Meyers, executive director of Mel Trotter Ministries, said donations have been down the past few months. Mel Trotter just closed on its 2004-2005 fiscal year, during which it saw a decrease in individual donations, in business giving and in proceeds from its direct mail fund-raising campaign. Mel Trotter had to lay off six staff people but maintained all of its programs to meet the needs of people seeking the ministry’s help.

“I think anytime we have a catastrophe or anything that is nationwide and there’s such wide media exposure, that it has a great impact not just on us but also on other ministries and charitable organizations,” Meyers said.

That’s not to say people shouldn’t offer financial assistance to devastated regions elsewhere in the country, he said. He said Mel Trotter felt the same reduction in donations following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

For the 2005-2006 fiscal year that began the first of this month, Mel Trotter hopes to raise $6.8 million. About $4 million is typically raised in monetary donations and $2.5 million is in-kind gifts, such as food and clothing. If not for those in-kind gifts, the ministry couldn’t make it, Meyers noted.

He said if the organization doesn’t achieve its funding goal for the current fiscal year, that would likely result in more pressure on each department.

“We’ve taken precautions this year because of last year. One thing we do have is an increase in people coming to our mission. The economy and the loss of jobs has had a real  impact on the community.”    

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