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Declining donations increase sense of urgency for some local charities on Giving Tuesday

November 27, 2018

Since 2012, Giving Tuesday has promoted the idea of making donations to charity after the series of shopper spending sprees for holiday gifts on Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday.

This year, for some nonprofits locally in Aiken County, there is an increased sense of urgency associated with Giving Tuesday on Nov. 27 because donations have declined.

“Giving is down a little bit, and we’re not sure why. We’ve been trying to figure it out,” said United Way of Aiken County President Sharon Rodgers. “Maybe the improvement in the economy is causing people to be less aware that other folks are still in need, particularly seniors on fixed incomes, children, the disabled and other vulnerable people in our community. I hope it (Giving Tuesday) will help bring some awareness that when you’re thinking about gifts for your family and friends, you might also think about making a donation to help those who aren’t as fortunate or as blessed as you are.”

Lisa Tindal, executive director of Mental Health America of Aiken County, and Susan Meehan, executive director of the Child Advocacy Center of Aiken County, also reported experiencing a decline in contributions.

“We are thankful that our allocation from the United Way has stayed consistent, but what has not stayed consistent is some of our grant funding and some of our individual giving,” Tindal said. “I think there is just a general tone of a lot of tentativeness in giving. There are so many of us seeking support that it might be a little bit overwhelming.”

Mental Health America is making a big push on social media for Giving Tuesday, using the hashtag #weneedyounow. The nonprofit also this week is sending out a year-end mailer to solicit donations.

“In 2013, we supported 1,998 people through our programs,” Tindal said. “In 2017, we supported 6,441 through our programs in some way, so we’ve nearly tripled the number of people whose lives we have touched.”

Meehan mentioned a couple of other theories about why donations are down. One of them involves natural disasters this year related to Hurricanes Florence and Michael.

“We’ve had two hurricanes that hit fairly close to our actual location,” she said. “I’m not trying to take anything away from them (the residents of the areas damaged), but I think that has had an impact on where people (in Aiken County) have given their money.”

In addition, Meehan has heard from others that a new federal tax law passed by Congress last fall has reduced the enthusiasm for charitable giving. It effectively doubled the standard deduction, which means that millions of taxpayers no longer will be able to itemize their charitable contributions.

According to the Fundraising Effectiveness Project, which tracks charitable giving in this country, the number of donors decreased 6.6 percent during the first two quarters of 2018, when compared to 2017. The revenue from donations declined 2.1 percent.

In the Aiken area, however, at least two nonprofits are bucking the decline-in-giving trend.

“We have actually initiated our year-end giving campaign, and we are seeing an increase in new donors and an increase in gift size,” said Suzanne Jackson, who is the executive director of Area Churches Together Serving, or ACTS. “But I don’t want people to think we are doing so well that they don’t need to support us, because that’s not the case. We have a budget that we still need to meet. Every year, when we go through the budget planning process, we have to see what we can realistically bring in from a revenue standpoint to support our mission. Sometimes, we have had to decrease our expectations based on prior year giving.”

Jamie Mothkovich, executive director of the Community Medical Clinic of Aiken County, also had good news to report.

“We are very fortunate because we are actually up this year (in terms of donations),” she said. “People have been very generous and have really supported our cause. I think the fact we are helping so many people get back to work (after their medical issues have been resolved) has really made a statement to the community and they want to be a part of that.”

Even though there has been a surge in contributions, Mothkovich has been promoting Giving Tuesday on social media in an effort to further strengthen the Community Medical Clinic’s financial support.

“We have to be proactive and keep pushing to get funds because we don’t know what the next year is going to bring,” she said. “There are times when grants are scarce, especially when there are natural disasters and a lot of the money gets moved over to them, which is how it should be.”

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