For Maryland charities, grounds for optimism as holiday season begins -- Gazette.Net


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Just in time for the holidays.

The economy’s continued modest gains translate into good news for Maryland charities, many of which are starting to see an increase in donations after the rough years of the economic downturn.

“It seems that individual giving is now increasing a bit,” said Neil C. Bergsman, director of Maryland Budget & Tax Policy Institute. The institute is an affiliate of Maryland Nonprofits, which advocates for charitable organizations in the state.

Tracking charitable giving can be tricky, because the main source of information is the itemized deductions on people’s tax returns, which means the most recent data still is from tax year 2010, Bergsman said.

More current estimates have to rely on anecdotal and national data, but Bergsman said he suspects the final numbers will show an increase in individual contributions.

The bulk of the holiday season — when the majority of donations are made — still is to come, but 2012 has been a good year so far, said Angelo Boer, director of development and communications for Catholic Charities of Baltimore.

Although smaller donations — up to $100, for example — have fallen since 2008, large donations have increased of late, Boer said. “Those who have, give more. Which makes you feel good,” he said.

The group, which oversees a number of charitable efforts including soup kitchens, shelters and group homes, is on track to meet its $13 million fundraising goal for this fiscal year, Boer said.

Catholic Charities of Baltimore raised about $12 million in fiscal 2012 and $11 million in fiscal 2011, he said.

But demand at soup kitchens, which Boer said is a good barometer of the need for charitable services in the region, has risen. The number of meals served at Our Daily Bread in Baltimore already is up to 270,000 this year, a year-over-year increase of 30,000, he said.

In 2010, the most recent year for which data were available, the average charitable contribution from Marylanders was $3,534, the 21st-largest among the 50 states and Washington, D.C., according to tax data compiled by the National Center for Charitable Statistics.

By comparison, Wyoming had the highest average contribution, with $7,328, while neighboring Pennsylvania had an average of $3,209 and Virginia had an average of $3,548.

In 2009, Maryland’s average contribution was $3,383, ranking it 23rd, according to the center, which cautions that such data give only a partial picture of charitable giving because it only includes itemized tax deductions.

In 2006 and 2007, prior to the economic downturn, the state’s average donations were $3,813 and $3,713, respectively, according to the center.

For a more up-to-date picture of charitable giving nationwide, Bergsman points to the Blackbaud Index of Charitable Giving, which collects monthly data from nearly 3,000 nonprofit organizations.

Although giving increased over the previous year in the first seven months of 2012, it declined in the following two months, with donations in September 2012 coming in 3.1 percent lower than they did in 2011, according to the index.

But not everyone is struggling. Like Catholic Charities, Baltimore’s network of Jewish charities saw some people stop making donations while others picked up the slack.

“When there’s a crisis, people respond. We saw that when the economy tanked,” said Leslie Pomerantz, senior vice president of development for The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.

The group, known has The Associated, has met its annual fundraising goal of about $30 million throughout the recession, and is on pace to meet its $30.5 million goal this year, Pomerantz said.

But The Associated, which Pomerantz said receives a large portion of its funding from foundations, may be an exception among the state’s charities.

Corporations and foundations often rely on investment income to fund their donations, and as the market drops, so do their returns, Bergsman said. But as the markets have slowly recovered, so have these donations, he said.

Maryland state employees also have managed to maintain their contributions during the past year, according to Deputy Secretary of State Peter C. Fosselman.

The Maryland Charity Campaign, which allows state employees to make contributions to more than 700 organizations via payroll deductions, is on pace to meet its 2012 goal of $3.6 million, Fosselman said.

Last year, the campaign raised about $3.5 million from nearly 18,000 state employees, only about $200,000 less than its goal, Fosselman said.

“People show compassion year after year,” he said. “It really puts money to work in Maryland.

dleaderman@gazette.net