Ideas and Innovations Charities Are Trying to Spark Year-End Gifts
AS 2009 winds to a close, fund raisers are frantically looking for new approaches to avoid
a repeat of the disappointing results many charities saw in the final
months of 2008.
Some charity leaders had feared
another weak holiday fund-raising
season this year, but the rallying
stock market has thrown a wrinkle
into prognostications. Two recent
surveys—by American Express and
the American Red Cross—indicate
that people are more likely to cut
back on expenditures like travel and
gift-giving this holiday season than
on charitable donations.
The Red Cross survey, based on
phone responses from more than
1,000 people, found that only 20 percent of people plan to cut their donations to charity. Nearly as many— 17
percent—said they would increase
In the American Express survey,
based on online responses from more
than 2,000 people, only 25 percent
said they plan to pare charitable giv-
ing this year, compared with 46 percent who planned to spend less on
One particularly bright spot: Donors expect to give a total of more
than $4-billion online this holiday
season, according a study by Convio,
a fund-raising software company,
and Forrester Research. Two-thirds
of Americans said they planned to
make online gifts in the weeks before year’s end.
Not every holiday survey bore good
news for charities. In a survey of
more than 1,000 people conducted
for the charity World Vision by Harris Interactive, only 38 percent of
Americans said they would be more
likely to give a charitable gift than a
holiday present this year, compared
with 49 percent in last year’s survey.
Amid the cloudy outlook for year-end fund raising, charities are trying a variety of strategies to increase
their share of whatever giving occurs. On these pages, The Chronicle
provides a look at the innovations
After United Way Rejected Them, Seven Charities
in Philadelphia Join Forces to Raise Money
MANY CHARITIES have im- proved their odds of surviving the downturn by collaborating to reduce “back office”
and other operating expenses.
Seven charities in Philadelphia
are taking the concept a step
further: They are collaborating
on an advertising campaign to
seek increased year-end donations.
The seven large charities
banded together on the campaign, called Give Philly, after
each lost annual support from
the United Way of Southeastern
Pennsylvania, which has adopted a new approach and now
raises money mostly for grass-roots organizations.
The members of the Give
Philly partnership are the Boys
& Girls Clubs of Philadelphia,
the Cradle of Liberty Council of
the Boy Scouts of Greater Philadelphia, the Salvation Army of
Greater Philadelphia, Settlement Music School, Travelers
Aid of Philadelphia, United Cerebral Palsy of Philadelphia &
Vicinity, and the YMCA of Philadelphia & Vicinity.
The charities are spending a
total of $100,000 on a joint year-end advertising campaign. Each
charity chipped in $10,000, and
an anonymous donor and a corporation contributed another
$30,000. (Previously, the charities spent virtually nothing on
year-end advertising.) In addition, a retired advertising exec-
charities banded together
to raise money with this ad.
utive who serves on the board of
the Boys & Girls Clubs donated time to help create the campaign.
The Philadelphia Foundation,
a community foundation, is processing and distributing the
gifts at no cost, which allows
the group to tell donors that
100 percent of the money they
donate will go to the charities.
More Than Money
The Settlement Music School,
a community school for the arts
that serves 15,000 students per
year, received $140,000 annually from the United Way, about
2 percent of the school’s operating budget, before that support
ended in June. Some of the other charities had received even
more from the United Way.
“What we’ve lost more than
the money is that broad reach
into the community that none of
us can afford to do on our own,”
says Robert Capanna, executive
director of the Settlement Music
School, and a spokesman for the
The seven charities collectively work with 370,000 children,
adults, and families per year.
The campaign ads, which are
running in local papers, and on
radio and TV, describe the charities as “Philadelphia’s leading
youth and family-service organizations” and urge donors to
“We’re trying to communicate
the message that it’s important
to support the organizations
that support your community,”
Mr. Capanna says.
On the group’s Web site,
givephilly.org, donors can choose
to make a gift that will be split
equally among all seven organizations, or they can give to one
or more of the groups.
As of December 1, 20 gifts totaling about $1,000 had been
made through the site, according to Mr. Capanna, and several
of the charities had received direct gifts from donors who cited
the Give Philly campaign as a
Mr. Capanna says the group
is also exploring other areas in
which it might collaborate, including accounting, human resources, and purchasing.
Charities Tap Supporters to Craft
Online Fund-Raising Pitches
HIRING a fund raiser is nev- er cheap—unless you can
find a few dozen donors to take
on the task without pay.
The Grameen Foundation, a
Washington group that makes
small loans to needy entrepreneurs, is sponsoring a contest
for supporters to come up with
the most creative and effective
fund-raising pitch benefiting
The reward is a free trip overseas to see the charity’s work in
Supporters can go to Grameen’s Web site to create personal Web pages that benefit
But Alex Counts, Grameen
Foundation’s president, says the
charity is open to any new effort that raises money for Grameen—such as an e-mail campaign that brings in a significant number of new donors, or
the brokering of a relationship
with a for-profit company that
donates a percentage of sales to
“My guess is that the most
ideas may be outside of the architecture that we’ve set up on
our site,” Mr. Counts say. “We
really just want people to go be
creative and bring others into
The charity hopes the effort
will increase its online fund
raising by about $1-million, to
$1.6-million—more than twice
COURTESY OF THE GRAMEEN FOUNDATION
In Haiti, a woman repays
a loan offered through
the Grameem Foundation.
the $600,000 it raised online in
2008, Mr. Counts says.
A similar contest was held
last month to benefit Heifer International, a charity in Little Rock, Ark., that gives livestock to poor people in developing countries. Mensa Process,
a consulting firm that works
with members of Mensa International, tapped that network
of intellectuals for ideas about
how to raise $1-billion per year
to help end poverty and hunger.
Some 1,000 ideas were submitted, and the top proposals will
be announced in December.
One leading contender is the
“rounding up” concept—
simil-iar to Bank of America’s “Keep
the Change” promotion—in
which a bank or other entity
would round up all purchases
by customers to the nearest dollar, and the difference would go
into a fund to fight poverty.
High-Tech Help Aids Charities
That Provide Toys to the Needy
TWO PROGRAMs that distribute new toys to needy children
over the holidays are getting a
high-tech tuneup, thanks to donated consulting help.
Collaborative Consulting, a
company in Boston, donated
services worth an estimated
$100,000 to help the Home for
Little Wanderers improve its
online “wish list,” which allows
donors to purchase toys that
children have requested. The
Boston social-service group expects to be able to fulfill more
than 3,600 wishes this year.
The company’s improvements
allow donors to search the wish
list by age, gender, or type
ofgift.Th e site, http://www.
thehome.org, also allows a donor or company to “adopt a family”—provide clothing and other
household essentials to meet the
needs of an entire family.
“Last year, this program grew
beyond our wildest dreams, and
we were handling it all by faxes
going back and forth,” says Scott
Inman, the charity’s senior cor-porate-relations manager. “You
can imagine the improvement
of being able to handle it all online.”
Meanwhile, JCPenney has
created an online version of the
Angel Giving Tree, a program
operated by the Salvation Army
for more than 40 years that
provides gifts to children from
needy families and poor older
The program has traditionally been conducted in shopping
malls with live Christmas trees,
but this year, for the first time,
donors can go online to “adopt”
people who have made requests
Donors are not required to
purchase the items at JCPenney.
Major George Hood, a Salvation Army spokesman, say
he hopes the online site, http://
www.jcp.com/angel, will allow
the charity to provide gifts to
an additional 100,000 children
this year, on top of the roughly 500,000 who receive gifts
through the solicitations held at
malls. —BEN GOSE