Charities end hard year with near-record donations

NEW YORK – Donor fatigue? Not this year.

Even after the outpouring of donations for the Indian Ocean tsunami and Hurricane Katrina, holiday giving is robust this season and 2005 could well set an overall record, U.S. charity officials are reporting.

“It seems to be a phenomenal year,” said Stacy Palmer, editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy. “Donor fatigue is something not many charities are seeing.”

By any measure, it’s been a year of immense challenges for relief groups, and donors have responded.

The year began with Americans pitching in to help faraway victims of the tsunami; those private gifts added up to $1.6 billion. Later came Katrina, the nation’s worst natural disaster of modern times, prompting donations that are nearing the $3 billion mark.

Some charities feared their holiday season fundraising would suffer as donors decided they had given enough. Thus far, however, end-of-year giving is generally strong, although some local charities remain worried because they have more needy people to serve.

In Lansing, Mich., for example, more than 2,200 residents have applied to get donated toys and groceries this season – up 20 percent from last year. The local Salvation Army branch had to turn away hundreds of families after exhausting a fund to help pay utility bills.

“People have been incredibly generous,” said John Keightley, a spokesman for Catholic Charities USA. “But as we hit the giving season, our local agencies are nervous whether they’re going to meet their goals. We’re all challenged to stretch, to think about people who don’t have enough.”

The Salvation Army was among several national charities raising more in response to this year’s hurricanes than for any previous disaster – $295 million compared with $86 million after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Catholic Charities has received $133 million for hurricane relief, compared with $32 million for Sept. 11.

All such figures were dwarfed by the hurricane relief fund of the American Red Cross, which has surpassed $1.8 billion – a record for any U.S. charity for a specific disaster campaign.

Kathleen Loehr, a vice president of development for the Red Cross, said Wednesday that some of the charity’s chapters in hurricane-hit areas were facing shortfalls in regular donations, but the rest of the 826 chapters were reporting strong year-end giving. Overall figures were not yet available, she said.

With the Katrina funds came extra responsibilities for the Red Cross, and criticism over aspects of its response. On Tuesday, the Red Cross president, Marsha Evans, announced her resignation because of conflicts with the board of governors.

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