When the seas begin to roll, a ship's passengers will grab hold of the banisters and squeeze.

That's what appears to be happening now that the economic surf is foaming, according to area donors and their nonprofit recipients. Charities, churches and arts organizations all say giving is down significantly due to uncertainty about personal finances and the future of the economy.

But not all charitable giving is hindered. Wealthy philanthropists whose gifts are planned and managed over time continue to fund their favorite causes. And some habitual donors say they have decided to give more, not less, during hard times.

What's more, charitable giving in the U.S. has risen consistently over the decades, from a total of $98 billion (in inflation-adjusted dollars) in 1966 to $306 billion in 2007, according to the Giving USA Foundation.


Goodwill Industries of Lower South Carolina has seen a 30 percent increase in store sales, a clear indication of greater need among low-income people, said Tina Marshall, vice president of corporate relations. Goodwill generates operating income from the sale of donated merchandise.

"But donations are not coming in in proportion to the sales increase," she said.

And the number of people who are registering for Goodwill's job training services is on the rise. In a typical month, the organization will serve about 250. In September, nearly 800 showed up, Marshall said.

"And it's not just (because of) unemployment," she said. "We're seeing people come in because one job isn't enough."

Bill Moore, political science professor at the College of Charleston, said it's the community-based nonprofit service providers that are likely to take a big hit during an economic downturn.

Fewer donations combined with cutbacks in federal funding, whether grants or earmarks, and in state funding, inevitably affect a charity's ability to maintain its outreach services, he said.

"There is a greater burden on nonprofits who help the poor," Moore said. "It can create a perfect storm as far as delivery of services in the local community."

Even the affluent who make large donations and whose lifestyles likely won't change because the economy has soured nevertheless suddenly are worth less, and this can have a psychological effect, causing them to scale back their giving, Moore said.

Jack Little, executive director of East Cooper Com-munity Outreach, said his food pantry ran out of goods Tuesday. Foot traffic is up about 60 percent from the same time last year, he said, and clients are complaining about lost jobs and big mortgage payments.

ECCO's annual budget of $700,000 depends on more than $300,000 in general contributions, Little said. So far, the nonprofit is on track to meet its goal, but most of those contributions are submitted at the end of the year, he said.

Major threats

The Florence Crittenton Programs of South Carolina, on St. Margaret Street in Charleston, have been serving teenage mothers for 111 years. But 2008 could be its last, Director Lisa Belton said.

Three years ago, when state Medicaid funding was slashed, the nonprofit took on significant debt in an effort to cover its operating expenses.

"We've been treading water for three years, thanks to churches, individuals and small grants," Belton said. "But in the past year, (the funding) has dried up."

Now, Belton's struggling every day to pay the bills.

The organization's annual budget is about $1 million, she said. It receives a Social Services Block Grant for $280,000 and a combined $250,000 from Trident United Way and Medicaid. She must hunt for the rest.

A preoccupation with funding prevents her from focusing on marketing and outreach, compounding the problem, she said.

Yet the programs ultimately save taxpayers money that otherwise would be spent on medical services, counseling and incarceration, Belton said. It makes economic sense for society to support such programs, she said. But it's especially difficult for entrenched nonprofits that society takes for granted.

George Stevens, executive director of the Coastal Community Foundation, echoed this concern.

"So many nonprofits are invisible, literally invisible," he said. Food pantries, summer camps, counseling services, job-training programs, elderly care, after-school initiatives, arts classes — all compete for donations and grants that are harder to get during an economic crisis, Stevens said.

Paul Stoney, director of the Cannon Street YMCA, said donors still are giving, but they're giving less. When an organization depends on small gifts, and those gifts shrink in size, it's important to run a "flatter" fundraising campaign that reaches more people, he said.

What's causing the dip in donations is uncertainty, he said. The YMCA's main fundraising event of the year is scheduled for February. Stoney said he's hopeful: Those who benefit from nonprofits recognize their value.

"The lower (someone's) income, the more likely he is to support a charity," Stoney said.

Bright spot

While small charities and arts organizations are likely to feel the pinch of recession, certain nonprofits stand to gain.

Trident United Way, which collects donations and then directs funds to various programs in the region, is on target to raise nearly $10 million this year, a record amount, according to Barry Waldman, vice president of communications.

Over 10 years, the organization has more than doubled its raised funds and increased its number of large donor families ($10,000 or more) from four to 127, Waldman said.

"We truly believe the reason is that when times are tough, people look for the most cost-effective way to support their community," he said. The United Way spends 15 percent of its budget on operating costs.

Employee campaigns (payroll deduction) account for 65 percent of money raised, according to David Nicole, fundraising campaign director. Corporate contributions generate 20 percent, and individual donors provide 15 percent.

Because the United Way prioritizes its distributions according to a charity's positive outcomes, contributors know their money isn't wasted, Waldman said, and the emphasis on results gives the United Way a strategic advantage.

Call volume on the 2-1-1 Hotline has jumped 20 percent since this time last year, and almost all the callers are seeking help with basic needs, said Charlotte Anderson, who runs the 2-1-1 program.

A terrible irony is that hard economic times result in funding cuts at charities just when they are expected to address greater need in the community, Moore said.

The Coastal Community Foundation manages endowments that generate income that supports designated causes. Giving is up, Stevens said, and the reasons are simple.

As the stock market undulates and loses value, investors see an opportunity to move their assets into a tax-deductible endowment. What's more, he said, other nonprofits feel less confident about managing their own endowments, so move them to the foundation for safekeeping.

"Smart donors know that during a recession you've got to give more," Stevens said.

Some nonprofits, especially those with high operating costs due to rising gas or food prices, or those considered luxuries such as cultural programs, will take a hit, he said. Others will benefit from what Stevens calls counter-cyclical philanthropy: "Buying straw hats in winter" in anticipation of upcoming needs.


The Storm Eye Institute at the Medical University of South Carolina receives less than $400,000, under 4 percent of its budget, from the state. The rest comes mostly from grants and private donors, according to development director Toni McHugh.

Increasingly, the institute is relying on legacy gifts, not small checks, McHugh said. Donors name the institute in their will, avoiding an immediate outlay of cash and associating themselves with a preferred cause.

People of means will continue to give despite the economic climate, she said, but the giving might become more strategic.

"They want our community to stay strong," McHugh said.

Julia Forster, development director at Spoleto Festival USA, said her organization already knows it can't rely on an $8 million budget like last year. One major corporate sponsor, financially ailing Wachovia (purchased by Wells Fargo last month), might not be able to provide the $100,000 it has committed to support the jazz series, and its endowment funding also has decreased.

Spoleto received $340,000 from its endowment, held by The Coastal Community Foundation, in 2007; it received $290,000 in 2008. "We're bracing for another dip," Forster said.

Already, programming for the upcoming festival is being modified. It will be less extravagant, she said.

Institutional funding isn't the only kind of income on the decline. Individual pledges from Spoleto's supporters also have slipped, Forster said. That money was meant to pay for renovations of the Dock Street and Memminger theaters, but some are saying they might not be able to fulfill their promises because of investment losses, she said.

"Everybody has less money," Forster said. "Everyone who doesn't have a salaried position is worth less."

Keeping faith

Even faith-based organizations are not immune. Offerings at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Ansonborough are "way down," according to the Rev. David Williams. Third-quarter pledges are down 14 percent compared with last year. "But what we're really concerned about is the coming year," Williams said.

Coastal Crisis Chaplaincy, which assists 36 emergency responding agencies in the Lowcountry, has seen a small decrease in individual donations and government funding, and is preparing for a rise in suicides, according to the Rev. Rob Dewey, its head chaplain.

Sean Nelson, lead pastor of The Crossover church, also noted a significant decline in giving. Crossover's members include many small business owners and young professionals whose incomes suddenly have dropped due to job loss, Nelson said.

The Rev. A.D. Robinson Jr. of Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church in North Charleston said offerings are down about 30 percent compared with the same time last year, and tithes (collections from members of 10 percent of their income) are down about 15 percent.

The decline started in August, Robinson said. "September was really bad." The church's food pantry has been overwhelmed, and demand for financial assistance — to help pay rent, mortgages and utilities — was so high the church temporarily shut down the program, he said.

Churches often don't admit when they are struggling, Robinson said, "because we're supposed to be such a light and strength." But it does no one good to gloss over the financial reality.

"You know what the main question is?" he asked. "How can we spend billions of dollars to bail out the banks when the average person is still struggling?"

David Rodwell, a 61-year-old member of Mount Moriah, recently started his own auto business after decades in the industry.

Business isn't very good right now, he said. "It's as tough as I've ever seen it."

So Rodwell is cutting back at home, he says. But he's giving even more to his church.

"I have actually upped my ante," he said, determined to stand firm and wait for the economy to improve. "It's personally painful at times, but I know it's the right thing to do."