Despite Predictions, Charitable Donors Just Keep Giving

By Jacqueline L. Salmon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 9, 2006

Donor fatigue? What donor fatigue?

For weeks, many nonprofit organizations have been predicting that the billions of dollars that Americans poured into relief funds last year to help the victims of epic disasters -- the South Asia tsunami, Hurricane Katrina and the Pakistan earthquake -- would result in "donor fatigue." Donors would grow weary of charitable giving after contributing to disaster-relief groups and desert their regular causes, the theory went.

But as checks are counted and online donations tallied, it turns out that 2005 was very good to many nonprofit organizations in the Washington area and elsewhere.

"People have heard that it's important to help the victims of the hurricane but that it's also important to help everyone else," said Anthony De Cristofaro, executive director of the Combined Federal Campaign of the National Capital Area, the annual fundraising drive among local federal employees. He said he expects the fund drive, which will conclude at the end of the month, to comfortably top last year's total of $56 million.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington had an exceptional year, said chief executive Misha Galperin. Gifts to the federation's endowment fund doubled to $18.3 million, contributions to its annual fundraising drive climbed by $2 million to $24 million and the federation raised $1.6 million for tsunami and Katrina relief funds, he said. Galperin attributed the growth to the Washington area's strong economy and the federation's initiative to reach out to more Jews in the area.

The news is also good nationally.

"I think it's going to be a banner year," said Stacy Palmer, editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy. In a recent survey, the publication found that many of the nation's biggest charities are raising as much or more than they did in the late 1990s, when the strong economy and booming stock market boosted charitable donations a startling 50 percent from 1996 to 2000.

"It's so logical to think that there would be this donor fatigue, but there's not much evidence of it," said Eugene Tempel, executive director of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, who studied 40 years of charitable donation data and found that growth in personal income is the most important factor in the overall level of giving.

Surveys find that individuals, foundations and corporations that contribute to disaster-relief funds do so in addition to their regular donations to non-disaster charities.

Tempel pointed out that disaster giving actually makes up a small slice of overall charitable donations in the United States. Nationally, charitable giving is about $245 billion a year, of which total donations to Katrina and the tsunami -- about $5 billion -- constituted 2 percent, according to tallies by the Center on Philanthropy.

Some charities not connected to disaster-relief efforts said last week that last year's catastrophes, particularly Hurricane Katrina, actually helped their fundraising efforts because they heightened awareness of nonprofit groups that aid the needy.

Cultural institutions in the Washington area also reported solid growth in fundraising.

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