Western Pennsylvania charities turn to creative fundraisers

Matthew Santoni
| Thursday, Nov. 28, 2013, 9:53 p.m.

More local charities are offering ways for donors to turn their dollars into meaningful gifts, as the organizations compete for contributions that typically pick up during the holidays.

Over the last three years, more of southwestern Pennsylvania's 7,500 registered nonprofits have turned to selling goods and services in exchange for donations or a share of the profits, as well as offering opportunities for people to make donations in honor or in memory of someone, said Peggy Morrison Outon, executive director of the Bayer Center for Nonprofit Management at Robert Morris University.

“There's definitely a trend in people looking for meaningful holiday gifts, tying their values to gift-giving,” Outon said. “Now, charities are also being entrepreneurial.”

For example, in the Bayer Center's annual charity catalog posted online at bcnm.rmu.edu:

• The Animal Rescue League of Western Pennsylvania sells calendars featuring members of the Pittsburgh Penguins posing with rescued pets.

• The Coalition for Christian Outreach sells holiday cards and prints to benefit its ministry.

• Family House markets decorative glass plates to support guest housing for patients of Pittsburgh hospitals and their families.

• The Opera Theater of Pittsburgh pre-sells tickets to its Summerfest concert series fundraiser.

Goods and services often are donated or given to the charities at a discount, then re-sold with profits supporting the organizations' missions.

Biggies Bullies, a volunteer-based organization rescuing, fostering and adopting out pit bulls and similar breeds, struck a deal with a vendor of soy candles in recycled glass jars and another vendor of coffee to sell candles and coffee beans, said Julie Ray, funding and special events coordinator.

“We think being able to buy somebody a gift that also gives back to something is a really awesome thing,” Ray said. “If you're looking for a present for a dog lover, you can get them a candle or coffee and tell them how the profits benefit charity; if you're a dog lover yourself, well, lots of people love candles and coffee.”

Danielle Sidoruk has purchased products benefiting Biggies Bullies for holidays and special occasions for the past two years.

“The person who receives the gift, I tell them how it goes to Biggies Bullies, so it's like an extra gift for them,” said Sidoruk, 38, of Baldwin Borough. “My shopping hasn't changed and I'm supporting a good cause.”

Many nonprofits offer opportunities to contribute in honor or in memory of someone, then send cards and newsletters to recognize the donors and honorees and show what the money is funding.

“From our perspective, for 46 cents and less than a penny for the card and envelope, it's a very good community relations tool,” said Karen Dempsey, vice president of development and administration at the North Side-based Brother's Brother Foundation, which had nearly 300 gifts worth a total $27,000 in honor of others as of the end of October. November and December are likely to bring more, she said.

In addition to the “Pets & Paws” calendar sold toward the end of each year, the Animal Rescue League offers “tribute cards” at its Larimer shelter and online, which people can buy in packs of five for $25, 15 for $50 or 50 for $100.

The “Happy Hanukkah” or “Happy Holidays” cards depicting pets wearing yarmulkes or Santa hats note that a donation was made in the recipient's name. The donor or volunteers at the shelter can fill out and send the cards, said Cathy Oskin, development director. Card sales raise about $2,500 a year, Oskin said.

Combining fundraising with gift-giving is a good idea for nonprofits, said Outon, of Robert Morris. During the holidays, many people look for ways to help others, and many charities scramble to round out the year's budget or keep up with increased demand for services. Since 1995, philanthropy in the U.S. has doubled to $300 billion, she said.

“This time of year, we're busy on both ends: bringing things in so we have the resources to give things out,” said Christine Gaus, director of services at South Side-based Brashear Association. “Most donations that come in this time of year are going right back out.”

Matthew Santoni is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5625 or msantoni@tribweb.com.

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