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Competition Stiffens for Donor Dollars

December 28, 1987|ALAN CITRON | Times Staff Writer

David Finegood is a marked man. In the parlance of charity organizations, he is known as a "giver," a guy who freely donates hundreds of thousands of dollars to causes.

The 67-year-old furniture maker said giving is a family tradition. But while he donated to about 400 agencies this year, he did not even come close to satisfying the intense financial demand.

"Once your name is on someone's list, you're not forgotten," said Finegood, whose main interest is Jewish philanthropy. "I probably receive two fund-raising appeals a day in the mail. Everyone is looking for something."

The competition for donor dollars has been especially fierce in Los Angeles this year, as charities and nonprofit groups have strived to meet fund-raising goals in the face of plunging stock prices, changing tax codes and general belt-tightening.

Most of the major organizations hit their targets. But consultants say that they also aimed lower and expected less. Florence L. Green, a partner in the fund-raising consulting firm of Green, Scribner and Co., said most nonprofit groups were happy just to get by this year.

"A lot of the charities didn't get the kind of increases that they (hoped for)," Green said. "Donors are being more cautious . . . and it's a very competitive climate."

In the spirit of competition, some charities and nonprofit groups tried to bolster their bankrolls with innovative fund-raising appeals. The Los Angeles-area Girl Scouts chapter held a gala benefit honoring every major achiever dating back to 1940. Others joined in promotional campaigns with credit card companies that returned a small percentage of their profits to the charities.

Minority Contributions

There were also appeals targeted at minorities and accelerated mail campaigns in which donors were reminded that tax deduction rates would be dropping after this year. Meanwhile, the Salvation Army and others that relied on time-tested techniques tended to come up short.

Russell Prince, the Salvation Army's director of development, said donations to the group's red Christmas kettles were down by more than 20% this year due to a shortage of volunteer bell-ringers and new regulations that barred them from many shopping malls. Toys for Tots also suffered from a severe toy shortage until the news media reported its plight.

Other nonprofits were jolted by the aftershocks of the October stock market crash. Dr. Sanford M. Shapero, president of City of Hope, said one major donor called to say that the $500,000 in stocks he had pledged to the group had dropped in value to $50,000. At the same time, smaller contributions were up, allowing the group to reach its $105-million goal.

"Several large donors who were supposed to give gifts at the end of the year can't give them now," Shapero said. "But the small donors have responded magnificently this year."

Too Soon to Tell

Charity analysts say it is too early to analyze the full impact of the stock market decline on giving this year. But, like City of Hope, many charities were expected to experience a decline in major donations and become increasingly dependent on donors who give $50 to $250.

These donors, who are less affected by stock prices and taxes, apparently provided the backbone of support for many charities in 1987. The United Way of Los Angeles, which was smacked with allegations of impropriety last year, is now well on its way to reaching its $85-million fund-raising goal, thanks in part to the support of about 50 chambers of commerce in the San Fernando Valley that were brought in as fund-raisers for the first time.

Next year the organization will try to recruit more minorities and small businessmen. Leo Cornelius, the president, said marketing is playing a larger role in fund raising. "We're using target marketing, identifying groups that have not been participating in United Way," Cornelius said. "Drawing people's attention is really one of the major hurdles."

Increase of 6%

Tony DeCristosaro of the United Way of America said the Los Angeles branch ranked fairly well this year among cities. Donations rose about 6% locally, which mirrored the national average. On a per capita basis, however, the city fared poorly. Los Angeles residents gave an average of $8 per person, while the national average was $16. Charity analysts say that Angelenos are traditionally less giving because they are less grounded in their community.

"It's a difficult community in which to raise money because it isn't home," Green said. "Fund raising is based on tradition and you would be hard pressed to find many people who have lived here all their lives."

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