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Decline in donations forecast for charities

| Monday, Feb. 4, 2013, 12:11 a.m.
Alysha Trexler (middle), a watershed scientist for the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, and Brian Neal (right), a projects manager for the WPC, check on the condition of native hardwoods that the conservancy planted on a farm near Plumville, Indiana County. Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review

A Texas company that analyzes economic indicators to guide nonprofits in raising money predicts those in Pennsylvania will have the worst time nationwide getting donations this year.

A recent report from the Atlas of Giving in Dallas predicts donations in the state will decline from $17.44 billion in 2012 to $17 billion in 2013.

Nationwide, the company predicts a slight increase in contributions, from $369.2 billion to $375.1 billion.

Atlas compiles data about more than two dozen factors, including unemployment rates, home sales, consumer confidence gauges and population changes. More than 6,000 subscribers, mostly nonprofit groups, get its monthly reports.

The company predicts that donations in the Pittsburgh metro area — Allegheny, Washington, Butler, Westmoreland, Beaver, Armstrong and Fayette counties — will drop about 2.9 percent, from $3.5 billion last year to $3.4 billion this year.

“There is a market correction expected nationally that will have an impact on charitable giving numbers, nationally and in Pennsylvania,” Atlas CEO Rob Mitchell said.

Some nonprofit administrators say they recognize that there are roadblocks to giving, but others say they expect to find continued generosity.

“I don't know how much weight I put on predictions,” said Carey Scheide Miller, the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy's senior director for development.

“Many people are generous, and we hope to find the people that are.”

Buoyed by strong foundation support, the conservancy's giving grew 47 percent last year, from $7.2 million in 2011 to $10.6 million in 2012.

Mitchell said environmental charities, such as the conservancy, are the least affected by unemployment because their donors tend to be educated and affluent.

The forecast would not affect all sectors of charity equally, he said.

For example, charities that rely more on individuals, such as churches, likely will feel the brunt more because such giving is susceptible to unemployment.

Without specifying an amount, Patrick M. Joyce, director of stewardship for the Pittsburgh Catholic Diocese, said giving last fiscal year was “relatively flat-lined” compared with fiscal 2010.

But he expressed confidence about this year: “I don't say it's a piece of cake, but if we focus the message on mission and impact, I'm absolutely confident that our parishes and diocese will do better in 2013.”

The Atlas findings mirror the national 2013 State of Philanthropy study conducted on behalf of Dunham+Company, a fundraising consulting firm in Dallas. That study found that, although Americans feel more stable about their economic situations, 27 percent of donors said they will give less this year than last. That's twice the number who said in 2012 they would give less than in 2011, and it's the lowest level of donor confidence since 2008.

The predictions are released as many nonprofits struggle to absorb cutbacks in state and federal grants. Many need to increase services for clients hampered by the economy.

“It's a double whammy,” said Joseph Geiger, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations in Harrisburg.

He said gridlock in Washington and Harrisburg over economic issues might compound the uncertainty that tends to decrease giving.

The Atlas report on Pennsylvania reverses the previous year's trend.

Charitable giving in the state rose last year by about 8.3 percent, from $16.1 billion in 2011 to $17.44 billion in 2012, Atlas found. That was the second highest increase in the nation.

Mitchell said that when he saw a downward forecast for Pennsylvania this year, he thought it was a mistake.

“I was stunned because Pennsylvania, as a state for charitable giving, has been a pack leader for a couple years,” he said.

Bill Zlatos is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7828 or bzlatos@tribweb.com.

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