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GLOBAL: Mixed picture on private donations as financial crisis bites

New York, 28 November 2008 (IRIN) - Aid agencies fear private charitable contributions will be hit by the global financial meltdown, and while for many it is still too early to feel the impact, some are already reporting a drop in contributions.

“Through June 2008, private revenue trends were positive, with significant increases for all types of donors. Since then, the situation has changed dramatically,” said Mark Melia, deputy vice-president of charitable giving for Catholic Relief Services (CRS), which in the fiscal year ending this September raised US$127 million in private revenue for its work in more than 100 countries, ranging from earthquake relief to antiretroviral therapy.

“The numbers for August and September softened considerably, with August significantly lower in 2008 compared to the same month in 2007,” he told IRIN. He declined to be more specific although he said that “significantly” meant by more than 10 percent.

“Though the decreases have been felt among all types of donors, this trend is most apparent for direct mail and annual giving donors. For these donors, the number of gifts has stayed the same, but the average gift is smaller,” he added.

It is a similar story at CARE, whose US affiliate contributed $545 million in fiscal year 2007 in support of over 1,000 poverty-fighting projects in 71 countries, reaching more than 65 million people.

“Yes, we are facing a shortfall, in part because of the huge hit on investment funds and in part because of a slowdown in giving,” public relations director Lurma Rackley told IRIN.

Mixed bag

The picture is anything but uniform, however, although even those who have not yet noted an impact are nervous. “Evidence from the past suggests that we may begin to receive fewer public donations but this has not started yet,” Oxfam International media officer Louis Bélanger said.

Oxfam UK also said it had not yet seen a decline in donations or overall income. “What we are seeing is not the growth we had originally planned for,” spokesman Dan Timms told IRIN. “We’re expecting that the overall effects are our rate growth will be negative, and that’s what we’re having to plan for now.”

Others have already felt some effect though apparently not on the level of CRS or CARE. The International Rescue Committee, which provides emergency relief, relocating refugees and rebuilding lives after a disaster, has reported a “softening” in donations since the end of last year. “Responses to some direct mail solicitations in the United States have not been what they were in previous years,” vice-president for development Janet Harris said.


Photo: Global Handwashing Day
UNICEF-funded programmes are supported by the Change for Good airline partnership
InterAction, the largest coalition of US-based international NGOs, said it was still too early to know the full impact. “Those with whom I have spoken replied that lag times in collecting and analysing data made conclusions premature,” vice-president for humanitarian policy and practice James Bishop told IRIN. But, he added: “One with a modest endowment reported a sharp blow.”

Across the Atlantic, it was a different picture for the Irish NGO Trócaire, which works on 127 programmes in 39 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East, and raised over €33 million ($42 million) in the financial year ending February 2008. Donations from the general public have not fallen.

“For the year to date our average donation has decreased slightly but more people have donated so the overall figure has not fallen,” international humanitarian communications officer Conor O'Loughlin told IRIN. “We have always enjoyed very generous support from the Irish public and hope that this trend will continue. Often during times like this people are forced to tighten their belts and this will result in greater empathy with those who have nothing.”  

Save the Children UK also reported no fall-off. “Certainly on the corporate side we’ve not see a drop-off as yet although that may well change come the new financial year,” head of public relations Rosie Shannon said.

Positive change

Perhaps one of the most visible campaigns is the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Change for Good programme, a partnership with the international airline industry whereby passengers donate left-over notes and coins to benefit children, and its Christmas cards.

UNICEF UK has seen some impact on its fundraising in the last few months. “As the financial crisis has deepened over the past few weeks, we have seen a slower take-up of our cards and gifts in the UK, particularly by companies,” Fiona Hesselden, deputy executive director of fundraising, told IRIN.

But the Change for Good programme with British Airways does not appear to have been affected. “Passenger donations this year are broadly comparable with last year, and we were delighted when the total income raised since the programme began in 1994 topped £25 million [$38 million] earlier this year,” Hesselden said.

The Japan Committee for UNICEF, which cooperates with Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways in Change for Good, as well as running several other fund-raising operations, has also not yet experienced less support from the general public. “We do not foresee any fall-off in the near future,” public affairs officer Hiromasa Nakai told IRIN.

He noted that donations from the Japanese general public have increased annually for the past 20 years even during the recession of the 1990s. “This trend seems to be in continuation in 2008,” he said.     

But if the impact so far is a variable, the general concern is certainly not. “Our concerns really are beyond 2010 and it’s too early to say [but] it goes without saying we’re moving into very choppy waters, extremely unpredictable times,” Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria spokesman Andrew Hurst told IRIN.
   
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Theme (s): Aid Policy, Economy, Governance,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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