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

Cutting Corners To Keep Giving

Nonprofit leaders, meanwhile, fret about how much individuals will give to workplace giving campaigns or to favorite charities.

"The smaller donors, the ones that are 'checkbook philanthropists,' they are the ones that will dry up the fastest," said Bill Hewitt, senior vice president and co-founder of Crown Philanthropic Solutions. "The larger donors tend to realize that organizations they care about are struggling in times like this and they tend to be stable."

Frida Burling, 93 and a Georgetown fixture, has long helped raise money for United Way, the Georgetown Ministry and other charities. In these tough times, however, she said she is cutting corners at home to afford to keep up her philanthropy.

"I turn out the lights more and we're going to use coupons for food," Burling said. "I'm not heating my outdoor room in this weather. But I expect to give as much to the United Way and my churches as I always do, maybe a little more."

But Burling -- whose late husband was a senior partner at Covington & Burling, the powerful D.C. law firm co-founded by his father -- said it is becoming harder to solicit gifts, even from members of Washington's moneyed elite.

"I think a lot of us still care enough," Burling said. "But I am worried that some people will give less for some of the big things."

There are other signs that top-dollar donors may keep their hands in their pockets this giving season, as a result of tumbling fortunes. Kessler of Arabella Philanthropic Investment, which advises wealthy donors on their giving, said many are cutting back this fall.

"One client got their September quarterly investment statement, and they immediately turned around and said, 'We're cutting our [philanthropy] budget by 25 percent,' " said Kessler, who declined to identify his clients.

Many major donors make charitable contributions based on the performance of their investment portfolios, said Gordon J. Campbell, president and chief executive of the United Way of New York. For them, "It's a whole new day," he said. "Are they going to give $250,000 instead of $500,000? That's the calculus that's going on with these individuals."

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