Tuesday, November 25, 2008


This morning's Wall Street Journal page one story on the decline in charitable gifts caught everyone's attention and generally depressed the holiday mood. Charitable gifts - especially from sinking corporations - are way down. But this is not exactly news. Most charities in New York, where the stock market exerts an inordinate and irrational influence over behavior, have felt the pinch some more than others as is always the case. Human service organizations have suffered more than any other category. Most of us have been living this downturn-turned-recession-now-depression for a year or more. But seeing the cold type is jarring, no question.

By the way it is interesting to note that the New York Times has stopped reporting the dollars raised at the charity events ("gala" may not be the word these days) they cover in the one-page photo spread in each Sunday Styles section.

So let's review:

  • Bonuses are being paid on Wall Street this year. Yes. They may be less and they may not show at the very top. But there is a large pool of upper management people who will see year-end rewards. Are they your donors? Why not?
  • Those of us who have been through this before are well aware that gifts go down in hard times. But giving always bounces back and usually faster than the rest of the economy. This would not be the time to give up no matter how discouraged you may be feeling.
  • Money is being made. Those who are making it may not be your usual donors. The job is to find out who they are and then to ask them. Bankruptcy lawyers for example or the shakeout experts who are feeding on the corporate meltdowns.
  • As a whole charities are not very well managed. There is unnecessary duplication. Of course this doesn't apply to you but to the other guy. Nevertheless there will be a shakeout. But here again nonprofits tend to be a lot more resilient than other economic sectors. Many of them run lean because they must. Lack of resources - usually a bad thing - may not be so terrible in a situation like this.
  • If our government can come up with a trillion dollars of our (your) money in just six weeks we are obviously a very rich nation. Lots of people are hurting and they deserve our help through the organizations we serve. But far more of us are feeling it just around the edges; their losses are on paper and unrealized. I myself am down 30-40% for the year - on paper. Just as you are. But I have not stopped giving. Either have you. And either will your donors - if you ask them!
Happy Holidays.

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