Charities feel economic turmoil

Tuesday, October 7th 2008, 7:02 pm
By: News 9

By Alex Cameron, NEWS 9

OKLAHOMA CITY -- In tough economic times, people tend to turn more to charities for help. At the same time, people tend to give less to charities. It's a catch-22 that could play out in Oklahoma.

Local charities have been through this before; 2002-2003 was the last time that giving was down and they know a harsh winter may be approaching for the non-profit world.

The Salvation Army's annual bell-ringing campaign accounts for almost a third of the agency's total budget and it begins in six weeks.

"We're very concerned, we're very concerned," Heide Brandes with the Salvation Army said.

Their concern is that "drop-in-the-bucket" donations will dry up this year, with more and more people feeling a pecuniary pinch.

"The irony of this is we're seeing more and more people come to us, come to the Salvation Army for utility assistance, for food assistance, for assistance of any kind," Brandes said.

Disaster relief agencies like the Red Cross are staring into the eye of their own financial storm. Their national relief fund was already $12 million in the red going into hurricane season.

"What we're having to ask people to do is, at a time when the economy's pretty tight, ya know, please dig as deep as you can and help, not only on a national scale for those national disasters, but with the United Way Campaign as well," Vince Hernandez with the Red Cross of Central Oklahoma said.

The United Way of Central Oklahoma provides millions of dollars each year to 61 partner agencies, the Red Cross and Salvation Army among them. Their fund-raising goal this year is $18.5 million; a very modest increase over last year. They said, despite the economic downturn, they're optimistic they can hit that goal.

"Other times when we've had this kind of experience in Oklahoma City, people remain supportive of us and our agencies, and I think it's because folks like to invest their money where they feel like somebody's going to do something with it and make a difference," Bob Spinks with the United Way of Central Oklahoma said.

United Way officials said, so far, their campaign is going well, but said they are looking at ways they can tighten their belt and are asking their partner agencies to do the same. The local chapter of the Red Cross gets half of its budget from the United Way.