November and December are usually the months when the abundant goodwill of the holiday season translates into a flood of donations for nonprofits that serve people who are elderly, hungry, living in poverty or struggling to make ends meet.
This year, however, executives at some safety net organizations in the Pikes Peak region are worried that donors are tapped out, both financially and emotionally, from pitching in during the Waldo Canyon fire.
It could affect more than the traditional holiday dinners, gift giveaways and parties that several nonprofits host. Many organizations receive hefty monetary donations during the holidays that pay for programs year-round.
“It is a concern,” Lorri Orwig, director of resource development of Silver Key Senior Services, which operates a gift tree for seniors during the Christmas season and provides food, transportation and social services to them year-round. “We’re looking at how donations are coming in, and we’re always very fortunate to have people who support us throughout the year, but we do think we have people who placed their money elsewhere because we were a community in crisis during the summer.”
Bob Tretheway, executive director of Christmas Unlimited, said he got an early glimpse of what might have been donor fatigue during the nonprofit’s back-to-school drive a few months ago.
“We were down significantly this year in the collection of school supplies,” said Tretheway, whose he said. “Whether that was Waldo Canyon donor fatigue, who knows. But when donations fall off perceptively, you look at what’s gone on in your community.”
Not every organization has seen donations drop off, however, and their leadership doesn’t seem as worried.
“We are not seeing that, and I hope we don’t see that in the holiday season,” said Lynne Telford, president and CEO of Care and Share Food Bank of Southern Colorado. “I think most donors know that (the fire) was a special circumstance, and we have ongoing needs. So we feel optimistic about the holiday season.”
It’s not just the donations of money and goods that worry officials at The Salvation Army of the Pikes Peak Region, though there is some of that, reflected in a drop-off of donations of cups, plates, food, decorations and other necessities for The Salvation Army’s Thanksgiving and Christmas meals. “Bell ringing is a huge concern,” said Adrianna Watson, special projects coordinator for The Salvation Army.
The nonprofit hopes to raise $500,000 through its annual Red Kettle Campaign, and it’s a goal more easily achieved by using volunteers, not paid bell ringers. Maj. John Bennett, county coordinator for the local Salvation Army, said the campaign hopes that 30 to 50 percent of the bell ringers will be volunteers. But it’s an ambitious target. Last year, only 18 percent of the bell ringers were volunteers. Watson said one group the Salvation Army can rely on — its auxiliary — may be too exhausted from helping out during the fire.
“Our volunteers normally get a break during the summer,” Watson said. “The volunteers are just tired after working all summer.”
Waldo isn’t the only factor that could affect donations. The economy still haunts the picture as well.
Yet, for all the uncertainty surrounding the giving season, several executives said residents of the Pikes Peak region always comes through in tough times, and they are confident of a repeat this holiday season.
“This community is just unbelievable,” said Larry Yonker, chief development officer for Springs Rescue Mission. “If they know you have a need, they respond.”