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Faced with donor burn-out, local charities shift fundraising strategies

Outside the grocery store a man is asking for change. Bundled against the cold he smiles at shoppers who avoid his eyes as they head in through the automatic doors. A homeless person? No. A Salvation Army volunteer and although he doesn’t actually ask for change, the three-quarters empty clear plastic kettle is a clear enough request. And the shoppers hurrying by are the answer.

"People are just saying ‘I don’t have the money, don’t have the money I used to have," says Doti Niedermayer, executive director of Whistler Arts Council.

Just days before Christmas and the Salvation Army has raised only one-quarter of its $10,000 goal from nine kettles in the Whistler and Squamish area. John Murray, spokesperson for the charity’s B.C. division said the five kettles in Whistler and four in Squamish have raised $2,400 by the third week of the one-month campaign. "We are cautiously optimistic that we’ll meet our goal again this year."

Charities like the Salvation Army are having a tough time across Canada this month and the Arts Council director says people are just tired of giving. "I think it’s just burnout across the board," Niedermayer said. "Cost of living has increased, and salaries, even with two-parent working families, can’t keep up."

The head of the United Way in Vancouver agrees. "In the Lower Mainland with housing costs coupled with lower discretionary funds, many don’t have the income to donate in the way they once did," said Michael McKnight, local CEO of the United Way.

McKnight points out that there is fierce competition for donors. "Twenty years ago, we didn’t see fundraising from hospital boards, universities and public school boards – now we do."

About one in four Canadians donated to registered charities last year, Statistics Canada said in a recent report, and B.C. donates $290 per tax filer, the third highest median average, $60 more than the national average. Whistler taxfilers had an average median donation of $150. B.C. donated the second largest amount of funds, over $973 million, an increase of 12.5 per cent from 2003.

Mei McCurdy is executive director of the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation. With money raised from two annual events and from 50 donated Whistler-Blackcomb "founders" passes, the foundation annually distributes more than half a million dollars through the Sea to Sky corridor, for everything from fire and rescue equipment to bedding and clothing for the Zero Ceiling Society (see Zero Ceiling: A journey to the top, in this issue). Funding applications to the foundation jumped by more than 50 per cent in 2005, from 65 to 100. And McCurdy says that although corporate sponsors and individuals are still donating, amounts to the foundation have been reduced. "We are stretching our community very thin," she said, and has changed her fundraising strategy accordingly.

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