Local charity leaders concerned over funds bypassing area needs
By Jaime Levy,
Victor Cruz & Jon Gutierrez
As philanthropic nonprofits enter their major fundraising season, members of a committee of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce want to hold an open meeting to discuss the impact of donors bypassing local charities in favor of aiding victims of Sept. 11 attacks.
Gene Gutierrez, chairman of the chamber's not-for-profit industry group, said he is trying to set up a meeting within a month between representatives of local philanthropies - many of which are expecting a surge in people who need their services because of widespread layoffs - and donors, who are hard-pressed for discretionary funds due to slowing business and the slide in the stock market.
Mr. Gutierrez said his group is working with the chamber's Economic Generation & Recovery Task Force - a group of representatives from public and private organizations working to rev up the local economy in the aftermath of the attacks.
At the task force's meeting last week, several members tried to galvanize support for local social service organizations. Similar concerns were reiterated Tuesday at a meeting of Miami-Dade County's economic recovery plan.
"We're beginning to mobilize around two basic questions," said Mr. Gutierrez, owner of commercial printer The Gutierrez Group. "What would be the types of community programs that could be put in place and by who, to support whatever the fallout is - and how are we going to fund that?"
Leaders of charities are asking similar questions and say they are trying to refocus public attention to their own neighborhoods.
"We at the United Way have started an entire communications program not to downplay needs in New York and Washington, but to bring back to the forefront that our needs in the community are probably more than last year," said Teofilo Babun, vice president. "It's important for people to recognize that if we don't fund human services programs this year at the same level or more as last year, we're going to have more homeless people, more children without insurance and less food to serve the needy."
In fact, said United Way spokeswoman Tammy Klingler, the organization has been discussing these concerns with interested fundraisers. For example, she said, a telethon in the Cuban community was going to donate earnings entirely to New York City relief efforts. After talking with United Way representatives, the telethon's organizers decided to donate 25% of the proceeds to New York, keeping the rest for local needs.
Although several nonprofit representatives said they have not yet seen a drastic downturn in funds, they are bracing for difficulty. Frank Jacobs, CEO of the Miami Rescue Mission, said he has already heard from some donors that they are splitting donations between local and national groups. He said he is most concerned about small donations - the mission gets the bulk of its funding in $25 to $100 chunks.
"If those people keep their jobs, the mission isn't hurt," Mr. Jacobs said. "But if there are massive layoffs, it starts hurting your bread-and-butter donors who keep the organization running through the years."
At the Salvation Army, officials said they are beginning to look into the long-term effects of the attacks - a process that could eventually filter some of the national organization's funds to local chapters.
"The resources of organizations like the Salvation Army are probably going to be stretched to the limit," said Tom Overton, area commander for the Metropolitan Miami-Dade County Salvation Army. "We don't have a lot of discretionary funds left over at the end of the year, anyhow, because we subsist only on donations from the community. If you don't have the money to provide services, you can't provide as many services. Either some have to be stopped or they all have to be cut back."
Camillus House spokesman Sam Gil said he is hopeful that a reformulated fundraising campaign would effectively return donors' attention to the food bank.
Once the holiday season is over, Mr. Gil said, Camillus House officials will have a better sense of the impact from any diversion of funds.
"By and large, our feeling is that even though there is a lot of money going up north, people still tend to give in their own backyard, particularly to causes that affect their own communities," he said. "Charities in Florida need to continue to make the case that we need help here.
"We need to continue to hit on the message that we're still here, we're still helping folks in our own community."