Judy Singer is used to dealing with stragglers.
As the director of special events for the Meridian International Center, a District organization that promotes international exchange programs, Singer keeps track of ticket sales and corporate sponsorships for the group's signature fundraiser, the 37th annual Meridian Ball, scheduled for Oct. 14.
"A lot of people come on at the last minute, no matter what year," she said.
But this year, Singer noticed she is facing more than the usual bunch of procrastinators, and she says she suspects that the nation's focus on recovery efforts along the Gulf Coast may be the reason.
"There's been some delay on the part of corporate sponsors as to what level they can sponsor us," she said, while several other businesses that have supported the event in the past simply dropped off the radar this year.
"I almost feel bad fundraising for one cause" when there are others that "take on more of an urgent need," Singer said.
While it is too early to tell what impact Hurricane Katrina will have on philanthropy, some Washington area nonprofits are concerned that corporations that have raised millions of dollars to help hurricane survivors may be forced to scale back their giving to other causes this year, just as the peak season for gala benefits and other charity events gets underway.
Already this season, Hurricane Katrina has claimed one casualty among local charities. Last week, Joseph Robert Jr. said his organization, Fight for Children, shelved "Speak Easy," an Oct. 7 gala dinner to raise money for scholarships for D.C. schoolchildren, because several major corporate sponsors were redirecting their philanthropic efforts to aid hurricane survivors. In years past, the event, formerly called "School Night," has raised upwards of $3 million.
John B. Salamone, national executive director for the District-based National Italian American Foundation, said he was "not surprised" to hear that an event had been canceled in part because of Hurricane Katrina. He said he expects next month's 30th annual National Italian American Gala, which his group organizes to raise scholarship funds and cultural exchanges, will bring in about 10 percent less than last year's.
"If you're not the American Red Cross or the Salvation Army, you're competing for very limited charitable dollars," he said, adding that his organization is not dependent on the event for the bulk of its budget.
So far, "Speak Easy" is the exception. No other major fundraisers scheduled for October have been canceled. And most local charities said their corporate sponsors have maintained their level of support, even as they made substantial contributions to relief efforts.
Philanthropy experts said that while fundraisers often worry that events such as Hurricane Katrina or even the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, will drain resources, most companies increase their charity budgets.
"Generally, what happens is companies will dig into other pots. We're talking relatively small amounts of money compared to the corporation as a whole," said Brad Googins, director of the Center for Corporate Citizenship at Boston College.
Choice Hotels International Inc., a Silver Spring hospitality company, and its employees plan to raise $500,000 for hurricane relief, including a $250,000 matching contribution from the company -- five times what the chain usually sets aside for charity, said spokeswoman Camila Clark.
Freddie Mac, a McLean mortgage finance company, came up with $5 million on top of its regular budget for charitable contributions to give to the American Red Cross to clothe, feed and shelter storm survivors. Its corporate foundation dipped into its reserves to write a separate $5 million check to the Red Cross.
Booz Allen Hamilton Inc., a privately held consulting firm in McLean, is among the many local companies that kicked in extra cash to donate to relief efforts. The company has not withdrawn from any of its regular charitable commitments, such as the Lone Sailor Awards Dinner to benefit the U.S. Navy Memorial Foundation, scheduled to take place Oct. 26th, said spokesman George Farrar. Booz Allen donated $50,000, and its employees raised an additional $125,000 to support relief efforts.
Another corporate sponsor of the Lone Sailor dinner, defense contractor BAE Systems Inc., with headquarters in Rockville, contributed $1 million to the Red Cross, according to spokesman John Measell. The money didn't set BAE back by much, compared with the $5 billion of sales that the U.S. subsidiary of a British-owned company does in the United States each year.
Googins argues that companies are more likely to be philanthropic because of Hurricane Katrina. In contrast to the reaction to the Asian tsunami in December and the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, companies such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Home Depot Inc. in some ways upstaged government and nonprofit agencies in responding to the crisis, setting a high bar for their peers.
"I don't think a company has an option of not doing anything because of the expectations of their employees and the reputational value, or, conversely, reputational cost of doing nothing," Googins said.
Still, there is concern about how the massive fundraising effort for Katrina will affect other charities. Some organizations say they feel shielded from any fallout. Officials at the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center at Georgetown University said they'd seen no decline in donations -- and did not expect one, given the nature of their work.
"Cancer is still a major cause. It is a personal issue with so many people," said Bonnie Roberts, director of donor relations and events for the center. "It seems people always come through for us."
But Liz Bradley, a spokeswoman for the Corcoran Gallery of Art, said she felt that her corporate sponsorships had not decreased for two upcoming October events only because the gallery lined up commitments months in advance -- before the hurricane.
She expects that money will be harder to raise in the future.
"The hard part comes later next year," Bradley said.