Relief Groups Take Hit to Unrestricted Gifts After September 11

December 1, 2001       Clint Carpenter      

Many relief organizations across the country are reporting moderate to hefty declines in unrestricted donations following the attacks of September 11. Meanwhile, donors are expanding generosity to facilitate aid in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Atlanta-based CARE USA (Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere) has seen unrestricted donations drop 30 percent compared to the same period last year, said Marilyn Grist, CARE’s senior vice president for external affairs for CARE.

“There had been some slowdowns a little bit as we looked at an economic downturn in August,” Grist said. “But post-September 11 — we experienced a steep decline in September.”

While unrestricted giving plummeted at CARE following September 11, restricted giving remains steady. According to Grist, when analyzing the total number of gifts in September they were down 34 percent. “That’s beginning to climb back up in the last part of October,” she added.

While unrestricted donations have suffered since September 11, relief donations designated for Afghanistan and Pakistan have jumped considerably.

Save the Children Federation, Inc. in Westport, Conn., has seen contribution increases restricted for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said Pat Long, vice president of finance and administration. Save the Children has seen slight decreases in unrestricted giving of approximately 1 percent. And, Long attributed less unrestricted giving to both the after affects of September 11 and to the slowing economy.

“The fact that we’re playing a leading role because of our work in Afghanistan and Pakistan, in fact we’re seeing growth in our overall revenue,” Long said. “We had been seeing this even prior to September 11, and now we’re looking probably at another $4 million to $10 million designated giving for work in that area.”

According to Long, many peer organizations are having similar problems with declines in unrestricted donations. But, a positive common thread is the restricted donations continue to be strong.

As for the short and long term affects of both the slowing economy and September 11, Long said, “At Save the Children we are international relief, but our work is in an area that has got the world focus right now, Afghanistan and Pakistan, that long term we expect to continue to grow. We have been growing steadily over the past few years in our portfolio of grant support for all our programs and we would expect that to continue.”

Grist said that some of CARE’s unrestricted donors are designating money to the Afghan relief and reconstruction fund while other gifts remain unrestricted. “Where we’re most concerned and where our partner organizations are too — if you talk to other NGOs (non-governmental organizations) – would be unrestricted money. The big challenge is how do we continue to pay for our programming throughout the 60 countries in which we operate,” said Grist.

Are relief organizations losing donors/donations because of the philanthropic nature of Americans to give to causes related to September 11?

Grist believes donors are giving to September 11-related causes on top of their gifts to CARE. “People are returning to their traditional charities and still giving to those on top of that,” said Grist.

“To what extent we don’t know. … We think we still have a difficult challenges ahead of us.” CARE has a $15 million fundraising goal for Afghanistan relief and reconstruction. Relief food supplies have been sent to Afghanistan already, noted Grist. CARE currently has 380 staff members working in Afghanistan.

Declines in giving have greatly impacted CARE’s relief effort, said Grist, with 15 percent cutbacks on the private support side from $56 million to $48 million.

Answering whether cutbacks in the 60 countries CARE operates programs may be necessary, Grist said, “Absolutely.”

CARE is continuing operations in all 60 countries and will continue until it’s not financially responsible, she said. The extent of cutbacks and which countries are truncated remain up in the air. In addition, there may be cutbacks at CARE’s headquarters.

“We’re trying to take a conservative approach until we have a better photograph of what the next six months to a year look like, which is a difficult thing right now,” explained Grist. “I am not as worried as I was a month ago about donations to September 11 supplanting support for international relief and development efforts.”https://www.thenonprofittimes.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=3112&action=edit

Albert Brill, the deputy executive director for Catholic Relief Services (CRS) in Baltimore, said they halted all solicitations in September following the terrorist attacks, resulting in 10 to 15 percent declines in overall giving in the month compared to 2000.

“I really can’t gauge by September alone because right after the terror we didn’t do anymore asking. We stopped our direct mail. We didn’t send them out,” Brill said. “So, September was off for us, which you would expect (because) we weren’t asking.”

For October, Brill said CRS cranked-up the solicitation engine again fully expecting that numbers would be soft. Although the overall number of donations was down from 60,000 to 52,000 (13.3 percent) in October, Brill expects the dollar volume to be comparable to recent years. Exact numbers for October were not available by press time.

“It’s been a good month. We know from our unaudited report that it’s on par with previous years,” said Brill.

CARE’s Grist is cautiously optimistic about the future saying, “Private support on unrestricted remains problematic. So we’re a little bit stronger in October then we were in September but we still have a difficult challenge ahead.”

Federal Way, Wash.-based World Vision, which operates in nearly 90 countries, heavily in Africa but nothing in Central Asia, is reporting falloffs in their unrestricted donations too. Although 93 percent of donations are restricted to programs, the relief group said unrestricted funds were down in October. World Vision did not have exact numbers in October because they had not fully calculated the numbers by press time.