During the holidays, people traditionally turn their thoughts to those in need. That has never been more important than this year, when so many are facing difficulties because of the recession. The focus on good works also provides an opportunity to reflect on ways that Orange County can improve its year-round commitment to charitable giving, as well as curbing fraudulent activity that robs legitimate agencies of sorely needed contributions.
Especially during economic downturns, charities must look for new ways to expand their donor bases. They have to make up for losses they suffer because some supporters can't continue their same level of giving.
That is true, for example, for the United Way of Orange County, which is behind in its annual campaign. Partially finished with its four-month campaign to raise $23 million, the organization estimates it will fall 8%--or $2 million--short of its goal.
Jeffrey L. Rocke, a spokesman for United Way, said he is more concerned than in past years, "because economic conditions create a tenuous giving environment." The irony is that when such times hit, the demand for services from United Way's 113 agencies also increases.
Still, United Way doesn't plan to stand by passively. It is stepping up many of its donor programs, including an expansion of efforts to enroll Orange County's Japanese-owned firms in employee giving campaigns. Rocke estimates that there are 150 Japanese-owned firms in Orange County. Once made aware of the important role charitable agencies play in the United States, many of these companies respond by adopting donor programs. "Giving follows knowledge," Rocke said.
On another front, United Way and many other legitimate Orange County agencies suffer because of attempts by fraudulent groups to bilk people of donations.
This deceives people in their most generous moments, and deprives aboveboard agencies from money they might otherwise have been given. The Orange County district attorney's office estimates that residents are bilked out of $9 million a year by fraudulent solicitations.
But county efforts to stem this activity have been disorganized. A watchdog group, Charities for Truth in Giving, has been working to develop a model ordinance that could be adopted by all 29 cities in Orange County.
That effort should be supported. The patchwork of current municipal ordinances can create confusion, especially because fraudulent telephone or mail appeals often cross jurisdictional lines.
County residents who are solicited should make special efforts to confirm the legitimacy of organizations they want to support.
The advice of Charities for Truth in Giving is worth following, especially during this holiday time: Give generously, but be cautious.