Local nonprofits need help lending a hand
By Brad Pedersen
Published: Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012, 8:53 p.m.
Local charitable groups are looking to individual donors for support this holiday season.
A higher demand for services, coupled with government cutbacks and shrinking endowment funds have contributed to nonprofits' needs to reach out to individual donors, said Kathy Buechel, director of the University of Pittsburgh's Philanthropy Forum and a senior lecturer at the university's graduate school of public affairs.
“This is a challenging time for nonprofits as they look to broaden their base of support,” Buechel said. “Many have benefited for years from supports from foundations or government-contracted support to cover human services and programming, but now, they are trying to reach out to more individuals.”
Buechel said small, local organizations make up the majority of nonprofits and charities. This holiday season, Gateway Newspapers will highlight local nonprofit organizations to tell readers what the needs are in communities and the challenges groups face in meeting those needs throughout the suburbs.
About 5,800 nonprofit organizations vie for support in southwestern Pennsylvania, Buechel said.
“We have a particularly dense nonprofit region,” she said.
“These groups are a factor in the economic activity of the state and region and contribute to our quality of life, ability to deliver human services, education and other programming.”
In 2011, nonprofit organizations reported $298 billion in revenue from individual giving across the United States, Buechel said.
Small nonprofit organizations, such as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, rely on donations to provide basic human services to its clients.
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul, a Catholic organization, offers assistance with utilities, food and clothing vouchers to those going through a financial crisis, according to Keith Kondrich, executive director of the society's Pittsburgh council.
The majority of its funding and services come from donations and sales at thrift stores throughout the region, including Monroeville, Penn Hills, Butler, Castle Shannon, Sharpsburg and Coraopolis.
“Locally, we have a pretty strong donation base and see an upsurge during the holidays,” Kondrich said. “If items are sold in our thrift stores, all the money goes to community programming.”
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul served 91,062 people in the Diocese of Pittsburgh and disbursed $1.6 million to individuals to help with utilities, housing, clothing, food, transportation and other needs, according to its 2011 annual report.
The organization also distributed 111,919 pounds of food through its food pantry, according to the report.
Since October, Kondrich said, the society has seen a spike in requests for winter clothing and assistance with heating bills.
“Locally, the economy continues to be a challenge, and it is starting to cut deeper than the lower-class communities, which we commonly think of,” Kondrich said. “We've seen more of an increase over the last six to 12 months from middle- and upper-middle-class communities, where jobs are being cut or eliminated.”
North Hills-based Treasure House Fashions, a nonprofit clothing store selling gently used women's clothing, operates on cash and clothing donations. The store provides clothing and vouchers to churches and women's shelters.
Sally Power, founder of Treasure House Fashions, said the store works with about 60 philanthropic organizations to supply women in need with gift certificates for Treasure House Fashions.
Like the items in the store, Power relies on donors to underwrite the cost of the gift certificates, she said.
“Thankfully, people have been generous in continuing with donations of clothing, but we have seen a greater need,” Power said. “Aside from clothing donations, we certainly appreciate when people give of their time or money for gift certificates.”
Power said small nonprofit organizations serve to strengthen a community by letting residents help their neighbors.
“We're not part of a national chain or just reaching out with some kind of idealistic and altruistic inspiration,” Power said.
“It's really people linking arms and helping build a community and serve the people in it and keeping each other from falling through the cracks.”
Brad Pedersen is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8626, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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