Donations rising at many Mid-Columbia nonprofits

Tri-City HeraldJuly 20, 2013 

When Tri-Citians give to Grace Clinic, they are helping other Tri-Citians receive medical care.

That’s among the reasons Mark Brault, Grace Clinic board president, provides when asked why the nonprofit has seen continued growth in community support at the same time charities nationwide saw the recession swallow donations.

A Herald review of financial statements from 40 local nonprofits found 73 percent saw growing donations between 2009-11, with support being provided for everything from basic human needs like food assistance, housing and free medical care, to help for homeless animals and spay and neuter services.

But while donations are up at several area charities, many say they are struggling to keep up with increasing demand.

“We still turn people away because of lack of capacity,” Brault said of the Kennewick clinic that provides free medical care. “The demand continues to grow. Fortunately, we’ve been able to grow what we do, but we still turn people away.”

GROWING DEMAND

Charities are serving more families, more children and more of those who are uninsured, unemployed and homeless than ever before.

“Because our community is growing, just the sheer numbers of people here, means that the social services needs are expanding,” Jeanne Jelke, executive director of the Benton-Franklin Chapter of the American Red Cross, told the Herald before her recent retirement.

And charities like the Tri-Cities Food Banks are not just serving the chronically poor anymore, said John Neill, executive director.

They’re serving families living from paycheck to paycheck, college students and those whose pay has not kept pace with increases in gas, grocery and medical expenses.

Melissa Cloninger, director of community and corporate relations for Second Harvest Food Bank of the Inland Northwest, said she thinks some donors decided to give to charities serving basic needs in a community because of the recession.

The need for food assistance across the country has been unprecedented for the past four years, she said. And it doesn’t seem to be slowing.

Since 2009, Cloninger said Second Harvest has increased its food distribution by more than 65 percent in the 51,000-square-mile area it serves. Its service area includes Eastern Washington and north Idaho.

In fiscal 2012, Second Harvest provided about 3 million pounds of food to food banks and programs in Benton and Franklin counties, according to the charity’s report. A total of $485,000 donated in the two counties helped pay the $632,000 cost of transporting, storing and distributing the food. Spokane donors helped cover the rest.

Like Second Harvest, Grace Clinic doesn’t expect the needs for free medical care to decline in the near future. Officials anticipate helping more Tri-Citians this year than last.

By the end of this year, officials anticipate that about 48,000 people in Benton and Franklin counties won’t have health insurance, representing about 18.4 percent of the population. That’s up from about 33,300 uninsured residents in 2008.

Brault said Grace Clinic had 6,747 patient visits last year. As of May, the clinic saw 3,004 patient visits.

The nonprofit has seen donations increase from about $316,000 in 2009 to $506,000 in 2011, according to the agency’s financial records.

Some patients give donations for their services, but there is no charge for Grace Clinic’s help, Brault said.

Like Grace Clinic, the local Red Cross chapter is seeing growing needs, with more families being displaced by residential fires in Benton, Franklin and Adams counties.

The Red Cross is helping more households with a number of people and families living under the same roof, Jelke said. And that means families affected by a single residential fire require more resources.

“Often the people who need us the most have the least,” she said.

In fiscal 2009, Red Cross helped 50 families, representing 184 people connected with 40 fires. That cost about $38,000, Jelke said.

That compares to fiscal 2012, when 77 families representing 246 people needed help after 53 fires, she said. That cost about $53,000.

TIGHTENING BELTS

Nonprofits are dealing with increasing bills like most businesses, with gas, transportation and insurance costs rising, officials said.

Some charities have made cuts, even though community support remained strong. Of the 40 charities the Herald reviewed, about 56 percent increased expenses spent directly on services and staff costs.

Overall, 38 percent, or 15 charities, cut total expenses between 2009 and 2011.

Even charities seeing fewer donations carried more money into the next fiscal year. In all, 34 out of the 40 charities the Herald reviewed, or 85 percent, ended 2011 with more net assets than in 2009. Those nonprofits were spending less than they received and not digging into savings to make ends meet.

By the end of 2011, 30 of the 40 charities the Herald reviewed had net assets at least as large as half of their most recent annual expenditures.

And 20 charities had end-of-year net assets greater than a full year of expenditures, according to the data, a sign of financial strength.

Some charities, like Goodwill Industries of the Columbia, are adding or expanding services to meet community needs, thanks to increasing community donations of goods.

Scott Shinsato, Goodwill’s associate executive director, said his agency added a new program to help adults who need help finding jobs but do not qualify for any other state or local programs. The walk-in program helps adults complete a résumé, prepare for an interview and connect with other community resources.

“We are kind of like the last chance to really help someone who has definite needs,” he said.

Goodwill’s goal is to help people reach their highest level of employment, Shinsato said. The nonprofit works with adults with disabilities and disadvantaged adults such as ex-inmates, some recipients of temporary state aid and adults who do not speak English.

Shinsato said Goodwill is committed to providing job training to those with disabilities in its retail stores. Custodial on-the-job training also is offered with the help of some local businesses, charities and churches.

And other charities, like Columbia Industries, are taking a careful look at how to keep their programs sustainable.

In the past five years, Rich Foeppel, Columbia Industries’ president and CEO, said Columbia Industries has been trying to increase revenue to better support the cost of providing services to adults with disabilities.

Surviving as a charity can require a careful balance between the mission and the business.

“We’ve got to lead with business, but don’t forget why we do what we do,” Foeppel said.

Columbia Industries started a for-profit company called CI Support LLC a few years ago because some of its programs — CI Shred and CI Student Staffing — had evolved into being more business-focused. Foeppel said revenue from CI Support helps pay for Columbia Industries services.

At first, CI Shred employed clients to shred documents starting in the early 2000s. But Foeppel said now so much security is required, clients are no longer shredding documents.

CI Student Staffing helps businesses, mostly from Hanford, find student interns. Clients are not involved in that program, either.

GOING FORWARD

The Tri-Cities has many worthwhile charities in need of donations, officials say.

Tom Yount, president of the Tri-City based Washington State STEM Education Foundation, said he has noticed community donations have tapered off. It’s becoming more difficult to get large million-dollar donations from individuals and companies, he said. And those donations tend to make up the bulk of capital campaigns.

Local charities seem to be going to the same group of philanthropists and businesses and they may be feeling tapped out, Yount said.

Since the nonprofit started more than four years ago, Yount said it’s been able to raise almost $8 million to support science, technology, engineering and mathematics education through Delta High School in Richland. Tri-City school districts plan to build a new school in Pasco as soon as 2015 using a combination of donations and state grants.

Most charities have to rely on community donations to provide their services, officials say.

Even the bulk of Goodwill’s revenue is tied to donations — from the sale of used clothing, electronics, knickknacks and household goods the community donates and Goodwill staff prepare and then sell at Goodwill stores and online.

Goodwill saw its total revenue climb from about $9.6 million in 2009 to about $11.1 million in 2011, according to the charity’s financial documents.

And Gordon Comfort, Goodwill’s executive director, said the nonprofit had a big increase in donations last year and is slightly up again this year.

That growth in support has a lot to do with the local community, he said. Nationwide, 59 percent of Goodwill organizations are seeing donations decline.

Community awareness of the need for food assistance has helped bring in more donations, said Neill, with Tri-Cities Food Banks.

Tri-Cities Food Banks has seen demand grow by about 20 percent a year, Neill said. The three banks in Kennewick, Richland and Benton City are now serving up to 850 families a month.

During three days in one week, the Kennewick food bank provided food for 93 families, serving a total of 400 people, Neill said.

Donations to the Tri-Cities Food Banks grew from about $1.8 million in 2009 to $3.4 million in 2011, according to the organization’s financial records.

Still, charity officials say more donations are needed as demand continues to grow.

Reporter Sara Schilling contributed to this story. Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; kpihl@tricityherald.com

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