SAN DIEGO – As 2011 winds down, many people are finding their mail boxes – both e-mail and post mail – filled with well-meaning solicitations from local and national nonprofit organizations they support through holiday-giving campaigns.
In San Diego alone, groups like the San Diego Women’s Chorus, The San Diego LGBT Community Center, Diversionary Theater and Mama’s Kitchen are among a slew of organizations hoping to raise some extra cash during the holiday season, a time when many people are more inclined to give.
Another perk: There is also the tax deduction to think about at year's end.
Many organizations attempt to personalize their pleas, often using computer software that will insert the recipient’s name throughout the letter, be it on paper or via e-mail. Organizations will also often tell a story of a client in need, or of the successes of their services, hoping to inspire people to want to be a part of that work.
In a holiday ask letter from Mama’s Kitchen received by a SDGLN staff member, Alberto Cortes, executive director, asks for “a special holiday gift” to the organization in the amount of $25, $50 or as much as $100.
Cortes explains that those who participate in the holiday-giving program will get to place a personalized greeting card in a holiday meal that will be received by one of the organization’s clients. Cards were sent to potential donors in a previous mailer who are encouraged to write a message on the card and send it back to the organization.
“Your kindness means everything to those who rely on Mama’s Kitchen – particularly during the holidays when so many are sick, alone and without a support system,” Cortes wrote.
Aimee Halfpenny, director of development at Mama's Kitchen, says that her organization receives a significant portion of its charitable gifts at the end of the year.
"During the holidays there is a spirit of giving and hope. I find most people give not because of end of year taxes, but because this time of year sparks a sense of reflection and gratitude," Halfpenny said. "People are able to look at their lives and say 'I am grateful for all that I have' and in turn are more sensitive to those who are struggling. Nothing compares to the joy that giving to another brings - that is the most priceless gift any of us can receive. The mission of Mama’s Kitchen allows people to be a part of that."
The Diversionary Theatre also sent out a mailer, and it included a two-page letter from executive director John E. Alexander, a list of contribution levels, and a pledge card.
In the letter, Alexander, who just recently joined the organization, shares his thoughts on the future of the LGBT theater organization:
First, a major thing that inspired me to join you as Diversionary’s new Executive Director, is the thriving vibrant theater community in San Diego and the increasing role San Diego theaters play in nurturing new talent and creating new plays and musicals for the world’s stages. Diversionary plays a vital role by allowing actors, designers, directors and playwrights to make San Diego their home. Your support of Diversionary directly fuels this “creative class” so that we are able to pay competitive fees and salaries, give artists a place to hone their craft, and put them in front of enthusiastic audiences.
Those who give to Diversionary Theatre have the opportunity to be a part of its “Playwrights Circle,” “Creative Fund,” “25 for 25” program or “Friends” depending on the amount they donate.
People give at the end of the year for a number of reasons, although many say they do so for tax purposes.
“If I have money left over at the end of the year, I usually try to find a charity to make a donation too,” said Barry Small, a San Diegan who owns his own small business. “I really do enjoy the spirit of giving, but the more I give to a worthy nonprofit means the less I give to the IRS and I like that!”
Donations to most 501(c)3 nonprofit organizations are tax deductible making the holiday season a good time for people to make their final contributions in the current tax year.
The IRS recently released an article with tips for year-end giving.
The advisory includes information on deductions for donations of clothing and household items; monetary donations; and special charitable contributions for certain IRA owners.
IRS also reminds donors that in order to qualify for a deduction for any monetary donation made, the donor must have a bank record or written communication from the nonprofit organization showing the name of the charity and the date and the amount of the contribution.
IRS video on charitable giving
Pat Libby, director of the University of San Diego’s Institute for Nonprofit Education and Research, told SDGLN that many nonprofit organizations rely on holiday and year-end campaigns to provide a large amount of their annual budget.
"The simple reason why year end giving campaigns are so important is because this is the time of year when people feel most generous and charitable," Libby said. "Some people, in fact, only write checks to charities during the month of December which is why appeals during this month are so critical. Just like department stores earn a huge chunk of their yearly revenue through holiday sales, nonprofits receive the lion share of their contributions in December."
For several years, many nonprofit organizations have been struggling with “doing more with less.” While the economic downturn has affected businesses, individuals, and nonprofits alike, some organizations have fared better than others.
In an interview the Chicago Sun-Times Libby said that most philanthropic giving is to universities, hospitals and arts groups, not those that serve the disadvantaged.
Organizations that serve the people who are most in need, receive the least support from donors.
“As Americans, we need to dig deeper this year,” Libby said. “It’s our moral responsibility to take care of each other … these are desperate times.”
Tony Freeman, executive director of the San Diego Human Dignity Foundation (SDHDF), agreed that many organizations are struggling and that year-end gifts could make a huge difference.
"It’s tough out there. The slow economic recovery is putting more pressure on the nonprofits for vital services, while, at the same time, it’s much more difficult to raise the funds needed to provide the services,” Freeman said. “For many nonprofits, year-end gifts are critical for raising the funds necessary to continue taking care of our community throughout the year.”
As SDHDF is the only charitable foundation dedicated to serving the LGBT community in the San Diego region, Freeman encourages everyone to give whatever they can to support the local nonprofits organizations. The Foundation has a number of programs and plans for people who want to plan their giving and ensure that it goes back to the charity intended.
Those who wish to give back to San Diego’s LGBT community can visit SDHDF’s website for more information or to set-up a donation.
While many organizations have not yet calculated the results of their holiday campaigns this year, Charity Navigator, an independent organization provides free financial evaluations of U.S. nonprofits, said that 57% of donors expect to give at the same level they did last year, with a focus on human service organizations.
The Movement Advancement Project (MAP) recently reported that the finances of LGBT organizations seem to be stabilizing after a steep revenue decline in 2008-2009, but individual donations are declining.
MAP looked at 40 leading organizations in the national LGBT movement and found that the number of individual donors fell by 12% from 2009 to 2010, and their total contributions fell by 14%.
As dim as the prospects seem, most organizations continue to press on doing the work they do to achieve their mission.
“Our nonprofits serve the neediest of our community throughout the year,” Freeman said. “They are on the frontlines of providing compassion, care, and support and hope, helping making San Diego a better place to live for all of us. In this season of ‘giving,’ what more valuable gift could you give than to help the organizations that help our community.”
A partial list of LGBT-friendly organizations that have sent out holiday contribution requests: