Michigan charities kick into high gear

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News

There’s been too much competition for charity dollars in 2017, as Alexander Sebastian knows too well.

He’s the director of communications and philanthropy at the Southgate-based Guidance Center, serving more than 23,000 people every year in Wayne County. He’s also the father of a 27-year-old who’s been evacuated with his family from Ojai, California, because of the Thomas Fire, a blaze that grew larger than all of New York City.

Floods. Hurricanes. Wildfires. Earthquakes. A man with unknowable grudges and a collection of rifles in a Las Vegas high-rise. In the United States and elsewhere, there’s been what feels like an unprecedented pull on people’s generosity.

Now it’s crunch time for nonprofits, most of which make a holiday push for donations as the Dec. 31 deadline nears for individuals giving tax-deductible gifts.

“Often when there’s a natural disaster, in the U.S. or worldwide, you see many people supporting that relief effort,” Sebastian said. “You worry that they might be forgetting the nonprofit organizations in their backyard that need assistance, too.”

Thankfully, he said, the Guidance Center is keeping pace. In an informal sampling, other local nonprofits reported that they’re also holding their own — but they’ve been very much aware of the unfortunate competition.

On the national front, said Mary Zaleski of the Salvation Army Eastern Michigan Division, “It’s been a tremendously difficult year for disasters. And the Salvation Army has been involved in so many of them.”

Locally, the $7.85 million Red Kettle Campaign is “down a few percentage points from where we should be,” she said, but “people are being very generous. We’re just hopeful more people realize we have our own urgent situation here in the Metro area.”

Donna Murray-Brown, president and CEO of the Michigan Nonprofit Association said she believes local donors are recognizing that situation. “The need for services in Michigan remains high,” she said. “Michiganders have been, and continue to be, very generous. We are grateful that donors have not forgotten about the nonprofits doing great work in our communities.”

NonprofitHub.org, a resource center in Lincoln, Nebraska, surveyed 400 organizations nationally and found that 28 percent of them count on the so-called “year-end ask” for 26 percent to 50 percent of their annual fundraising. Another 36 percent said they raise 11-25 percent during the holiday season.

From the CATCH office at the Fisher Building, executive director Jim Hughes said November and December are even more important than that for his charity, founded by the late Sparky Anderson to help kids at Henry Ford Hospital and Children’s Hospital of Michigan.

“We’re unique in that we’re kind of a boutique charity,” Hughes said. Most of the CATCH budget comes from special events, including a two-flighted golf outing and a banquet called the Night of Champions.

Its annual appeal, launched in November, typically accounts for 97 percent of its $120,000 in non-event revenue.

Hughes told his executive committee last week that CATCH was $20,000 short of its goal. “In five days,” he said, “we cut that in half. With the rest of the year to go, we’d like to think we’re going to hit our number.”

Gilda’s Club Metro Detroit, a cancer patient support center in Royal Oak, said December donations usually reach $100,000.

“It’s about showing your impact,” said event and marketing manager Megan Hengesbaugh, “making sure they know that when they donate to you, it matters. We’ve been seeing a lot of gifts come through the mail, so it’s a very exciting time.”

The Salvation Army’s donations are coming through slots in a kettle, rather than a mail slot.

“Next week, we’re going to have a match,” Zaleski said. “That should certainly help.”

Also helpful, she said, would be more bell ringers. To volunteer, go to ringbell.org.

“Do it as a family,” she said. “Do it with neighbors or friends. Play music or sing. Make it fun.”

Few will have a better time than the 170 children from various Guidance Center programs who took part in the fifth annual Power of Ten shopping excursion Saturday.

A record 17 donors, four more than last year, ponied up $1,000 apiece to provide $100 gift cards. Paired with escorts at the Walmart in Southgate, the children bought presents for their families and OK, maybe for themselves.

It felt like Christmas, Sebastian said — right on time, just like the donations.


Twitter: @nealrubin_dn