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Charitable challenges

Jimmie (left) 12 weeks, and sister Josie, also 12 weeks, along with Patrick, 5 months, play in their cage as foster mom Julie Bertich of Carol Stream watches during the HELP (Homes for Endangered and Lost Pets) adopt-a-thon at National City Bank on Saturday in St. Charles.  (Marcelle Bright - for The Chronicle)
Jimmie (left) 12 weeks, and sister Josie, also 12 weeks, along with Patrick, 5 months, play in their cage as foster mom Julie Bertich of Carol Stream watches during the HELP (Homes for Endangered and Lost Pets) adopt-a-thon at National City Bank on Saturday in St. Charles. (Marcelle Bright - for The Chronicle)

Bad economy or not, charity fundraisers just keep coming.

Bake sales, dinner-dances, auctions, concerts, shop and shares, bunco nights and general appeals, the needs of those served by charities and nonprofits never go away.

And that could be because giving is an American way of life. Even in the worse economy since the Great Depression, U.S. charitable giving in 2008 exceeded $300 billion for the second year in a row, according to the Giving USA Foundation annual report.

“It would have been easy to say ‘not this year’ when appeals came their way,” said Del Martin, chairwoman of the Giving USA Foundation. “However, what we find remarkable is that corporations and foundations still provided more than $307 billion to causes they support, despite the economic conditions.”

Still, the number represents a 2 percent decrease, compared with 2007, when charitable giving was measured at just under $314.1 billion. This is the first decline in giving since 1987, according to the foundation.

The numbers for 2009 will not be available until July, foundation spokeswoman Sharon Bond said. But since people typically give 2.2 percent of their disposable income to charity, a decrease in income directly corresponds to a decrease in charitable giving.

Geneva Mayor Kevin Burns, a professional fundraiser, said charitable giving has taken a huge hit in the last 18 months.

“The disposable income is less, but also professional fundraisers overall understand the increased sensitivity of asking people for major gifts,” Burns said. “Writing the $25 check has not ceased. But writing the $250,000 check or $25,000 check, that has become harder.”

Burns, who until recently worked as a fundraiser for U.S. Figure Skating, said statistically, more than 85 percent of all charitable gifts in the U.S. are made by individuals. Corporations give about 10 percent and wills and legacies about 5 percent.

“Philanthropy has an emotional, inspirational and human connection,” Burns said. “Look at the outpouring to Haiti. It’s amazing, extraordinary. When a problem arises, Americans arise to respond to the problem.”

• • •

Local charities and nonprofit groups abound in the Tri-Cities area. Each school has a PTO that raises money. Music and sports programs – usually called boosters – also work to support their children’s activities.

Public libraries and park districts have foundations that raise money; libraries also have friends groups.

In addition to Jaycees, Kiwanis, Rotary, Lions, United Way and mother’s clubs, local charities also span organizations that support the arts, history, music, animal welfare, services to the poor, elderly, disabled, homeless, addicted and just out of jail.

Kane County residents raise money for the American Cancer Society, Living Well Cancer Resource Center in Geneva, and for the Paul Ruby Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.

And it all matters. All the giving – large or small – recipients say, means so much to them.

Consider the Geneva History Center, needing to make up $150,000 for its $300,000 annual budget.

Executive Director David Oberg said the center has focused on multiple ways to encourage more giving.

“I am a former president of the Illinois Association of Museums, and I hear from a lot of folks around the state that this is an extraordinarily difficult fundraising environment,” Oberg said. “We’re looking at 10 percent unemployment, and people concerned about their own personal savings – it becomes harder for them to give.”

But the center has received an outpouring of generosity from many sources, he said.

“Students at Heartland Elementary School collecting their nickels, dimes and quarters raised more than $1,200 for the history center,” Oberg said. “The night of the (Geneva) Christmas Walk, the Geneva Middle School South Jazz Combo musicians donated their money from their performance. I am deeply touched by this.”

• • •

Marcia Teckenbrock of Geneva is president of Help for Endangered and Lost Pets, a local organization that provides foster care for dogs and cats and helps them find homes. The group recently held a cat and kitten adoption event.

Though there is increased demand for their services, Teckenbrock said, donations have remained constant.

“We adjust our activities based on what money we have,” Teckenbrock said. “If income from donations, fundraisers and adoption fees is low, we might have to take in less cats or dogs.”

However, Hearts of Hope, a Geneva organization that provides education, advocacy and support for Kane County families and individuals coping with drug addiction, saw its fundraising down by $20,000, which is half their budget.

Director Lea Minalga said she predicts the same level of funding for 2010.

“What a year it’s been,” Minalga said. “It’s been way down because of the economy, but we are holding our own and surviving on a shoestring budget.”

The organization is applying for grants to try to make up the difference, she said.

She said the loss of funding will delay the organization’s critical prevention work, in particular, educating parents on how to talk to their children about drugs and alcohol.

“I am on the parents advisory board of Partnership for a Drug-Free America. It helps parents learn how to talk to their children about drugs and alcohol,” Minalga said. “I did not warn my son about drugs and alcohol early enough or often enough. If I could go back in time, I would have been speaking to him more frequently about it.”

• • •

School fundraisers can provide significant support to their schools and programs.

For example, the Geneva Middle School North PTO raises money to pay for student dances, activities and teachers’ wish lists for their classrooms, PTO President Sheri Littleson said.

“Last year, we bought books for the library and in the past we bought a treadmill for the exercise room,” Littleson said. “We also try to help with transportation costs for field trips and for students who cannot afford the field trips.”

The PTO turned to shop and share fundraisers this winter after its fall magazine fundraiser sales dropped.

“We’ve seen it drop over time, but we saw a huge drop of $21,000 in 2006,” Littleson said.

St. Charles High School North’s Music Boosters saw a reduction in funds from memberships drop 20 percent from 2008-09 so far in 2009-10, president Robin Fleming said.

Memberships were $6,735 in 2008-09 and to date this school year, memberships are $5,365 for about 450 music students, she said.

“I really think it’s the economy, a combination of people looking at value of houses and still paying the same amount of taxes,” Fleming said. “This year, they say, ‘My taxes are already high enough. Why pay extra to school system?’ “

Still, the boosters also receive funds from concert ticket sales and from the baked goods and drinks at the concessions, she said to fund extras for the program.

“We also buy instruments, sound equipment and recording equipment,” Fleming said. “Last year, we bought two grand pianos for North and spent $4,000 for one, $6,000 for the other.”

• • •

Park and library districts also have charitable foundations for additional support.

The St. Charles Public Library Foundation does direct appeals every year and fundraising dinners every other year, said treasurer JoAnne Poole.

“We were better than we expected,” Poole said of last year’s donations. “On the other hand, the library is receiving tremendous use in this economy in the amount of things that are checked out. People are getting all their DVDs from the library instead of paying for them, that has increased beyond belief. People are going to library and getting books for free, where a year and half ago, they would have bought them.”

The foundation sponsors free classical concerts there and endowed its technology center with 20 computers about five years ago, Poole said.

The Batavia Park District Foundation raised money for the Peg Bond Center expansion, said Gary Foiles, formerly on the foundation board, now on the park board.

An upcoming fundraiser is a bean bag toss, called a Baggo Tournament.

“We have it (the equipment) sitting in the park district garage now, the fundraising is to get the money for the installation to be completed this spring,” Foiles said. “Fundraising is always challenging. If you have a good project you believe in and that people will support, that makes it much easier.”

• • •

The Kane County Relay for Life’s overnight summer event for the American Cancer Society always draws a big crowd at Elfstrom Stadium where the Cougars play.

But Paul Ruby’s Concert for a Cure events are no slouch, either. Ruby, the general manager of the Herrington Inn and Spa in Geneva, founded the Paul Ruby Foundation for Parkinson’s Research in 2007, a year after he was diagnosed with the degenerative neurological disorder characterized by tremors.

The concerts have drawn increasing support, from raising $50,000 in 2008 to $75,000 in 2009. Dawn Vogelsberg, a Geneva alderman and executive director for the foundation said the projection for this year’s events are $100,000.

“Paul is very inspirational,” Vogelsberg said. “I think a lot of people have been touched by Parkinson’s and the fact that it may be cured in our lifetime makes it a great project.”

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