Donations take a hit, but giving continues

While some philanthropic organizations are still successfully raising money, others are facing 20 to 30 percent drops in donations and assets, limiting their ability to do what they do best - give.

And, with the demand for health and human services higher than ever, nonprofits are facing serious challenges. But many in the nonprofit sector said it’s going to take a lot more than a global economic crisis to break San Diego’s generous spirit.

“It’s depressing, but there is hope,” said Bob Kelly, president of the San Diego Foundation. “There are still incredibly generous people out there.”

Some nonprofits are doing surprisingly well with their own fundraising.

La Jolla-based Las Patronas, a 62-year-old philanthropic organization that supports health, education, social services, and cultural arts, raised a record-breaking $1.2 million in the past year, said Lydia McNeil, the group’s president.

Now that they are beginning to solicit underwriting for the 2009 Jewel Ball, she said they are inspired to come as close as possible to that figure, especially with grant requests up 70 percent.

Big hits

While Las Patronas charges forward, the San Diego Foundation and Rancho Santa Fe Foundation, which manage $550 million and $30 million in assets respectively, have both taken a 20 percent hit in the stock market.

Since operations are based on a small percentage investment fee, they’ve had to cut their budgets or dip into reserves.

The goods news is individuals with endowment funds or foundations are still giving and giving broadly, Kelly said. Instead of supporting just one favorite charity, donors are spreading the wealth to numerous recipients, he noted.

The bad news is that they are not replenishing their funds and individual contributions have slowed considerably.

“There’s still a lot of people with a lot of wealth,” Kelly said. “But people are wary, they don’t know what’s going to happen next.”

Long-term impacts

Additionally, Kelly predicts the major foundations like Ford, Gates and Rockefeller, which have all lost billions in the past few months, will not be spending as much next year and the full impact of that reduction will take awhile to trickle down.

“Not-for-profits are going to get hurt more and more over the next year because ... the resources are not there,” Kelly said.

That’s why the San Diego Foundation has launched a “Survive and Thrive Initiative” to help nonprofits rethink how they do business. The foundation plans to host workshops about how to find new resources and ways to be more efficient, which could include mergers.

Not giving up

Also, the foundation is not letting up on its fundraising campaign.

“We’re letting people know this is not the time to back off,” Kelly said. “This is the time neighbors help neighbors.”

“We have to work even harder,” McNeil said. “It’s rededicated us, we have to get out there and raise money for these people.”

Zeke Knight, past president of the La Jolla Rotary, said the club is staying “full steam ahead,” though they may not be able to grant quite as many scholarships as they usually do this year.

Knight also runs Summerbridge San Diego, a nonprofit that educates inner city students at La Jolla High School for six weeks during the summer. Knight, who started the program 15 years ago, said he’s submitted almost 20 grant requests to corporations, foundations and individuals to cover the $100,000 operating expenses.

“I anticipate people who helped us in the past will help us in the future, but I am not sure to what level because these are challenging times,” Knight said.

The La Jollan said he had considered expanding the program, but decided to keep enrollment to 100 fifth and sixth grade students until the economy evens out.

‘Tis the season

Even though November and December are the most charitable time of year, the San Diego Foundation’s Kelly said the slowing trend will likely continue. However, he urged everyone to donate to a favorite charity or talk to a foundation to decide which to support.

Christie Wilson, executive director of the Rancho Santa Fe Foundation, also said she did not expect to make up the year’s 30 to 40 percent drop in donations all in one month. She, too, encouraged individuals to give, even if only $25, to their Armed Forces Interest Group, which is aiming to raise $600,000 for military families.

“Now is when people who have the ability can make a difference in people’s lives,” Wilson said.

While the future may look bleak, Kelly said nonprofit leaders and volunteers are an incredibly optimistic bunch and are hoping for a few holiday miracles.

“This time of year anonymous donors show up, the Santa Clauses,” Kelly said. “Everybody’s waiting for Santa Claus.”

Local Nonprofits

San Diego Foundation

(619) 235-2300

Boys and Girls Club of San Dieguito

(858) 755-9371

Del Mar Education Foundation

(858) 523-6199

Del Mar Rotary

Rancho Santa Fe Foundation

(858) 756-6557

Las Patronas