Philanthropy rises with stocks

January 3, 2014 

Nonprofit fundraisers, like retailers, hold their breath in late December, waiting for the important end-of-year receipts.

This year, many charities are optimistic - more than they’ve been since 2008, when the stock market crashed, withered the portfolios of foundations and individuals, and crimped corporate giving.

Fund developers and nonprofit leaders throughout the Kansas City area say the quest for contributions remains challenging and competitive. But finally, good hearts and good financial planning are combining to create what appears to be an improved year for philanthropy.

Nationally, giving is likely to be up 12.5 percent over last year, according to Atlas of Giving, a company that mines data to measure and forecast the numbers. That’s nearly double the increase from 2011 to 2012 and translates to about $415 billion in contributions.

That’s true in Lee’s Summit and eastern Jackson County as well.

“Overall it’s trending up, Phil Hanson, president and CEO of the Truman Heartland Community Foundation. The THCF serves many Lee’s Summit non-profits by investing and managing funds or providing support through grants.

Donations at THCF are up by about 40 percent, but Hansen noted that also was due to sizable gifts from two estates of $1.6 million and $900,000. The average is about $3 million.

He said that stock market prices make a psychological impact on donors, who often feel they can give a little more.

The markets recently are hitting record highs again.

Lee’s Summit Social Services, since 2008, has seen a growth of in-kind donations such as food or clothing or toys or items for its thrift store, but a slight decline in monetary donations.

This year nearly 800 children received gifts chosen by their parents at its Christmas store. The agency also helps with emergency utility bills for heating, lights and water.

The agency attributes the in-kind donations to a surge of a new generation of residents and those affiliated with church and social clubs seeing need and having a desire to help.

It has been beneficial for the food pantry which servers more than 4,000 residents.

But the dip in monetary donations left a gap in agency funds for client utility and rent assistance and basic agency expenses.

More residents who lost jobs, took salary cuts, or enduring other hardships are coming to LSSS for the first time, the agency said, looking for emergency help to pay utility bills.

Lee’s Summit has a blend of financially secure individuals who can write a check each month, young families who can give a sack of food here and there, and volunteers.

“Our loyal donors always come through when the need arises,” said Geneva High, executive director of Lee’s Summit Social Services. “We thank all who assisted with ongoing needs for the families and we want to especially thank the many volunteers who worked directly with the families to ensure each child would have a warm and happy holiday.”

Sheryl Franke, director of the Lee’s Summit Educational Foundation, she’s learned in 20-plus years of experience with that organization that effectively sharing its story has more long-term impact on charitable gifts than the economy.

The foundation has met or exceeded their $275,000 annual campaign goal the past three years. The economy has not weakened financial support for students, she said.

“We are very blessed in Lee’s Summit to have so many good-hearted, generous people from all walks of life who are willing to provide additional educational learning opportunities for R-7 students, Franke said. “Their gifts provide continuing education scholarships for graduating students along with providing classroom grants and technology. The philanthropic spirit of our donors during this past year has been inspirational.”

Regional charities that serve Lee’s Summit also noted improved climate for giving.

“There is a lot less anxiety about the economy,” Kathryn Harvel, director of philanthropic giving at Children’s Mercy Hospitals, said about donors this year.

“It feels like people are more comfortable with their giving levels,” agreed Patrick Sallee, chief development officer at the American Red Cross of Greater Kansas City. “It feels more active than previous years.”

That means more people have more taxable income and a bigger incentive to give stock or money to nonprofits, rather than face higher tax rates on long-term capital gains and other investment income.

In the Kansas City area, 2,515 nonprofits, registered with the Internal Revenue Service as 501(c)3 organizations, are vying for nearly $16 billion in annual revenues, according to the Midwest Center for Nonprofit Leadership at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Small wonder that, even in an improved economy, the nonprofit fundraiser’s work remains hard.

“We are working harder for less,” said Mark Litzler, who leads the Saint Luke’s Foundation. “The number of givers is growing, but the dollar amount is smaller, and major gifts are a smaller proportion of the total”

Litzler, like others charged with keeping the lights on and providing services in the area’s nonprofits, said they’ve learned the fundraising lesson well: “You have to have a strong case for your need and well-articulated gift opportunities, “ he said.

At Nonprofit Connect, an educational and networking organization for Kansas City area nonprofits, executive director Luann Feehan said “People want to give to a cause, not so much to providing funding for operations and staffing. And there’s a stronger connection between volunteering and giving, especially in corporations.”

Several fundraisers said that volunteers, who see first-hand the work being done by the nonprofit, become financial donors, too.

At the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation, which houses more than 3,300 charitable funds including some for Lee’s Summit groups, executive director Debbie Wilkerson sees that demand for accountability as a hallmark of this year’s charitable giving.

“Some of our donors are very intimately involved with the organizations they give to,” Wilkerson said. “We also have donors who come to us, asking questions, wanting our help to find out about the organization, to do site visits. A lot are saying they have to be ‘more strategic’ with their giving.

“Some people are open to spontaneous giving for a portion of their giving, but most want to be organized, to have theirs arms around their giving. And most follow their passions.”

Russ Pulley of The Journal contributed to this report.

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