“This is the time of the year that there is the biggest need. Those people are calling on our agencies,” said Travis McNeal, the director of special projects for Golden Harvest Food Bank. “You’re seeing more people getting in line at the pantries.”
Golden Harvest distributed 14.4 million pounds of food during the fiscal year that ended in September. That’s 11 percent more than the year before, McNeal said.
The charity refused to bend its mission of feeding the hungry across the area and beyond, despite struggling times. It cut staff members and consolidated operations rather than let its clients go without.
“Last year was one of the hardest years we’ve had in meeting our budget,” McNeal said. “The demand was so much greater.”
Monetary donations and volunteer work hours for charitable organizations such as Golden Harvest become ever more important during the holiday season when families need gifts for children, warm meals and assistance during cold weather.
Augusta agencies are following national trends that indicate nonprofit organizations are still recovering from the hard hit to charitable donations since the economic downturn began in 2009.
Giving exceeded $300 billion in 2008 and 2009, but fell to $290 billion in 2010, said Michael Nilsen, the spokesman for the Association of Fundraising Professionals. Donations so far this year indicate that growth could be minimal at best.
“Giving is very, very flat. The numbers have barely changed over the years,” Nilsen said.
Many charities account for between 30 and 60 percent of their annual contributions during the final quarter of the year. A weak holiday giving season can affect charitable programs for an entire year, Nilsen said. This year is no different.
“There’s some optimism, but there was some optimism at the end of last year, too,” he said.
November and December are typically the months that Golden Harvest receives the greatest donations and volunteer time, but some who once donated are now asking for assistance.
Corporate donations are lower than ever, and individual donations trailed off after peaking two years ago, McNeal said.
The United Way of the CSRA has seen a similar trend in corporate and individual donations since 2009.
Many still give, but the amounts are far less than before, said La Verne Gold, the president and CEO of the local United Way. Donors are also more interested in where their money goes and how the charity puts it to good use.
“When they do want to give, they want to give to organizations that are results-oriented,” Gold said.
Monetary donations, however, trail off between Thanksgiving and Christmas before spiking right before the new year. Those last-minute donations are critical for United Way’s fundraising campaign, Gold said.
“Our fear is that as you get past Thanksgiving and closer to the holidays, the giving takes a dive. People are concerned with their holiday plans,” she said.
As of last week, United Way of the CSRA had collected $1 million of a $4.1 million goal. The end-of-the-year push includes totals from large workplace donors and should bring the charity to its goal.
“We’re not feeling defeated at the moment,” she said.
The Salvation Army of Augusta continues to meet clients’ needs even though demand for services has increased, said Capt. Todd Mason, the organization’s administrator.
The number of people needing assistance to pay electric bills doubled in recent months compared with last year, he said. The Salvation Army works with Georgia Power Co. to provide financial assistance.
“They have exhausted all their personal resources,” Mason said.
The Salvation Army depends on its annual Red Kettle fundraiser, in which bell ringers collect donations at 25spots, to pay for services such as a homeless shelter and soup kitchen.
“It’s extremely important for us. It not only allows us to provide assistance during Thanksgiving and Christmas. It helps us provide assistance going into 2012,” Mason said.
Nonprofits have depended on a key strategy of retaining their reliable donors during the rough economy, Nilsen said. Charities recommend giving small donations on a monthly basis rather than a large, one-time donation.