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The year in philanthropy


Besides getting ready for the Buzz Celebrity Karaoke Contest a couple of weeks ago, Chrissy Chatham had another project on her busy hands: making sure that the teen-agers who will wake up Christmas morning at Youth Home Inc. mental health facility will have a gift to open.

"We've had a wonderful show of support of people buying presents for our kids," she said, who range in age from 12 to 17 and who, for the most part, are not able to go home at Christmas. Youth Home currently has 78 in-patients.

But fund-raising, the development director acknowledges, has been tough for the second year in a row, as recession-hit individuals who would normally share their wealth are continuing to be cautious, keeping a tighter grip on the cash.

Youth Home took a pretty hard hit in tax year 2009, according to the non-profit's most recent 990 tax form. Giving to the organization, which offers both in-patient and out-patient psychiatric care, had been in the $600,000 range for the previous three years, but dropped to $365,647 in 2009. This year is progressing much like the last, Chatham said.

Chatham described herself as an optimist — most people who raise money for non-profits are — so while Youth Home is seeing more in-kind donations rather than cash from individuals, "I think this is a great time, a time to go to donors and just talk to them about the program, build the relationship," she said. Then, "When they're more full in the wallet we can ask are we ready to talk about money now?"

If the National Center for Charitable Statistics and its collaborators on a survey of 2,356 public charities of fund-raising trends are right, tough times may be easing. Where more than half the charities they surveyed suffered a drop in contributions by October 2009, only 37 percent suffered a drop by October 2010. This year, 36 percent saw their income grow, as opposed to 13 percent last year.

That's a trend that would be welcome to Camp Aldersgate as well as Youth Home. Aldersgate raised $1.2 million in 2008 for its programs that serve kids with physical disabilities like cerebral palsy, spina bifida, mental retardation, diabetes and other illnesses. In 2009, the need was still there but the dollars dropped to $707,250, and donations this year "are about the same as they were last year," director Sarah Wacaster said.

It's annual donors — folks who give $10 or $20 a month — who are the "lifeblood" of her organization, Wacaster said. "They are the ones that haven't fallen to the wayside."

Neither organization has cut back on programming, as so many non-profits around the country have had to do. Aldersgate has savings to fall back on; Youth Home is "operating in the black and we're proud of that," Chatham said. There have been no salary increases in the past several years and turnover has been high, "but the staff has been extremely understanding."

Arkansas's top grant-making foundations began to recover some assets in 2009; about half of the top 15 richest foundations made gains. Those that didn't, for the most part, reduced the amount of funds they gave away, though that didn't hold true for the Arkansas Community Foundation, where assets declined $22 million in 2009 but total grants made were up $1.3 million. Wacaster and Youth Home's Chatham have had differing luck in getting grants. Aldersgate has gotten a "wonderful increase," Wacaster said; Youth Home a little bit less than previously.

Operating foundations in Arkansas were able to raise less money in 2009, though capital campaign pushes in certain years will cause fluctuations in gift-giving. The University of Arkansas Foundation had a nearly $10 million decline in giving in 2009 from 2008. Heifer International Foundation had a $26 million decline. The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and Arkansas Children's Hospital were both down, UAMS by $1 million, ACH by $5 million. The Arkansas Arts Center's troubles were most public: The failure of a donor to make good on a $500,000 pledge and unexpected exhibit expenses put the Arts Center at a $1.6 million deficit. (The Arts Center is not a stand-alone 501 c(3) non-profit but an agency of the city of Little Rock.)

David Frueauff, president of the Frueauff Foundation, said 2010 had "a couple of months as brutal as we've ever seen. ... It's really up and down and I would suspect that operating foundations [like the University of Arkansas Foundation] are still just as worried as they have been."

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