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Donation prime time


Photo by Flickr user

Photo by Flickr user Leonard John Matthews

Whether givers are motivated by a kind heart or the prospect of a hefty deduction on Line 19 of the Schedule A, the next two months generally are prime time for donations to nonprofits.

Toss in a lousy economy, doleful consumer sentiment, increased scrutiny of corporate spending and an exponential growth in the number of people needing charitable help and the next 65 or so days are going to be interesting indeed.

Often a social services or metro beat, there’s no reason you can’t work charitable giving and spending into your business coverage.  Here are a few angles to think about localizing:

Corporate donations. With 7 million jobs down the drain in the current recession, it’s increasingly difficult for companies to justify sponsoring an exhibit at the local art museum or a holiday hoedown for disadvantaged kids.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy, a periodical for the fundraising set, predicts a 9 percent drop in corporate donations this year, about half again as much as the 6.5 percent dip in 2008.   The Chronicle’s Web site is a treasure trove of insider commentary on the state of giving during a recession and how the professionals are meeting the challenge.

The site also offers statistics, including a searchable database showing the top 400 charitable organizations (by donation amounts) and sortable by state.  You’ll have to pay $10 for a 24-hour Web pass but it seems a bargain to me.

For-profit fundraising. Many people are unaware that those address labels, key rings and other doodads that show up in residential mailboxes aren’t printed by charity whose logo is on the envelope.  Professional, for-profit fundraising companies may be raking in as much as 90 percent of the “guilty money” (my term) that soft-hearted individuals send in the “pay for” these unsolicited goods.

Earlier this year the FTC and state consumer watchdogs teamed up on “Operation False Charity” to bust telemarketing boiler rooms and other entities turning a dime by tugging the heartstrings.  An update on perps in your state would be a timely reminder before the holiday season is under way.

Legitimate fundraising as a career. Not all professional fundraisers are scamsters, of course.  It’s a huge career field that takes a daunting skill set – the ability to schmooze under pressure, as it were.  For a glimpse inside that could lead to story ideas, check out the Non-Profit Times, Fundraisers.com and the more irreverent Don’tTelltheDonor.org. This blog doesn’t seem to have been updated in quite a while (sign of the times?) but it offers so many interesting links it’s worth a peek.

Other angles abound. Ponder a personal finance package including tax information and scam alerts, and talk with consumers about donation fatigue. Check up on the local slate of holiday fundraising galas including the economic impact on suppliers like caterers, banquet facilities, entertainers, valet parking concessions and beyond.  How’s the workplace giving climate, from toy drives to payroll deduction plans? Check with malls and retailers; are they being inundated with requests to make room for bellringers, donation jars at the cash register and other point-of-sale solicitations?

Most reporters are familiar with the following watchdog sites which are the basic starting point for reporting on or about non-profit entities, but just in case:

Charity Navigator

Guidestar

American Institute of Philanthropy

National Association of State Charity Officials

Your attorney general’s office may have a charitable trust unit, too.

About the Author

Veteran financial writer Melissa Preddy served as a business writer, editor and columnist for The Detroit News from 1995 to 2008, is a Michigan-based freelance journalist. She now works as a writer and editor for a medical research unit of the University of Michigan Medical School. Follow her daily posts. | E-mail: Melissa Preddy

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