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Ahead of Holidays, Charities Worry They'll Have Less to Offer

Egger, a former chief of the United Way of the National Capital Area, said he thought donors this year would be more selective about charitable dollars and volunteer hours.

"You may see now the beginning of a consolidation of the sector," Egger said. "We're a saturated market. Can any local economy support the number of nonprofits right now? And if a thinning occurs, who will survive? This kind of economic situation will force people to either stay the way they are and just plead -- or evolve."

Warily Watching Fannie and Freddie

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are such a force in the giving community that any hint of a decrease, or end, to their contributions sets off alarms among nonprofit leaders in the region. The livelihoods of some homeless shelters, scholarship programs, food pantries and social service agencies rest heavily on the two firms.

Spokespeople for the two companies said they would meet existing commitments, but no new grants are being awarded while the federal government reviews the firms' charitable activities.

Nonprofit and business leaders joined local members of Congress in writing to the Federal Housing Finance Agency, pleading with it to continue charitable giving in the region. Board chairman James B. Lockhart III wrote in response that charitable activities are under review "to ensure that such activities serve their mission and are appropriate to the conservatorship status."

"It is envisioned that the enterprises will continue to make charitable contributions," Lockhart added.

Still, this hasn't eased rising anxiety among community leaders.

"You have some organizations out there that count on that giving from Freddie and Fannie, and the uncertainty is debilitating," said Jim Dinegar, president of the Greater Washington Board of Trade. If groups "are living hand-to-mouth, and many of them unfortunately do, they're not able to keep their staff and are not able to deliver their services."

Take, for example, N Street Village, which helps homeless women in the District. Over the past decade, the shelter has been a beneficiary of Fannie Mae's Help the Homeless Walkathon, collecting $275,000 last year.

The loss of that revenue, executive director Mary Funke said, "potentially displaces our day program and night beds. In the social service arena, it would scale back our services by about half. We serve nearly 800 women a year -- that's about one-third of the [city's] homeless women population."

"The ramifications are potentially putting people back on the street," Funke said. "The ramifications are children being malnourished."

Across the country, charities are scaling back their annual fundraising galas. "Everyone from Food and Friends to Miriam's Kitchen and all the D.C.-based nonprofits are toning down the elaborate parties," said Eric Kessler, managing director of Arabella Philanthropic Investment Advisors. "They're just being very careful about how they present themselves and how they use their resources."

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