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Local Charities Feel the Pinch

By Suzanne Sprague

DALLAS – Suzanne Sprague, KERA 90.1 Reporter: It's been a tough year for Catholic Charities in Dallas.

Sister Mary Anne Owens, Executive Director, Catholic Charities: We have laid off ten people, which kills me, and we have a hiring freeze on now.

Sprague: Sister Mary Anne Owens is the Executive Director of Catholic Charities, which receives most of its funding through parishioners and companies that make small individual contributions.

Sister Owens: And what we have seen is that most of them, where last year they were giving $100, this year they?re giving $50. Last year they were giving $50, now they're giving $25.

Sprague: Catholic Charities ran its first deficit ever for the fiscal year that ended in November. So, the organization shut down one youth program in west Dallas and scaled back on others. But it's not alone. A domestic violence shelter in Dallas had to cut 10% of its staff, even though it saw the demand for services triple.

Julie Thomas, Executive Director, The Volunteer Center of North Texas: So they have inverse ratios here. An increased demand for service and a decrease in funding base, and that's a no-win situation.

Sprague: Julie Thomas is the Executive Director of the Volunteer Center of North Texas, which recently surveyed some of its client organizations about the impact of the recession and terrorist attacks. 43% of the 86 which responded said the demand for their services has increased, like the North Texas Food Bank, where food drives are down 18% and corporate donations have fallen by 50%. But there was some good news in the survey.

Thomas: We found that 20 reported an increase in volunteers, and more or less I think that's based on the fact that people found they had more time: layoffs, the economic downturn, concern about the home front. The results of the September 11th situation have caused some to volunteer more.

Sprague: Nine agencies did report a decrease in the number of volunteers after September 11th, but Gary Godsee, president of the United Way of Dallas, sees a silver lining with local fundraising campaigns for his organization.

Gary Godsee, President, United Way of Dallas: We now have almost 200 new businesses signed up for new campaigns; some of those had made a commitment prior to September11th, but we saw a surge of people willing to run a first-time campaign after that.

Sprague: Contributions also picked up after the United Way, Salvation Army and other organizations formed the North Texas Homefront Coalition to encourage more public donations. Still, Godsee says the United Way's annual campaign may run $1.5 million short of its $55 million goal. And it's already made a two percent across-the-board cut in its funding to the 110 agencies it serves. Michelle Monse, who's the Associate Director of the Dallas Foundation, says local agencies have few choices in this funding crisis.

Michelle Monse, Associate Director of the Dallas Foundation: It's hard to see what else non-profits are going to be able to do to adjust besides cut back in services or laying off staff. Of course they could redouble their efforts in fundraising.

Sprague: In fact, United Way agencies in Dallas and Tarrant counties have lengthened their campaign season. And, in Fort Worth, the United Way is trying telemarketing for the first time to bring in more dollars. Officials won't know how well these strategies work until late January, when the end-of-year contributions can be processed. For KERA 90.1, I'm Suzanne Sprague.