GivingTuesday: Do South Florida shoppers have enough for charity after holiday spending binge?

At midnight Monday, the final bell tolled on the three-day holiday shopping binge collectively known as Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday.

Now, will exhausted consumers answer the bell ringers of the Salvation Army on GivingTuesday? Or an appeal from Feeding South Florida?

The annual fundraising day for charitable giving  — started 11 years ago in New York at the 92nd Street Y and its Belfer Center for Innovation & Social Impact — has morphed into a global movement designed  to encourage millions of people to contribute to nonprofit projects that benefit people in need.

This year, GivingTuesday could be a watershed moment for nonprofits as many say that contributions are down compared with previous years, raising the stakes for organizations that rely on outside financial help.

Salvation Army donations lag

David Hayton, director for development for the Salvation Army in Broward County, said giving is down year-over-year “somewhere in the 12 to 13% range.”

“We kind of fit right in there,” he said. “It’s unfortunate. At the same time, we have been at full capacity with all of our shelters. The waiting lists are the longest they’ve been.”

Compounding the problem: “aging facilities.”

“We enjoy, I think, a greater diversity of a donor base than might be typical of nonprofits in Southeast Florida,” Hayton said. “We have everything from your great aunt writing $3 or $4 checks at the kitchen table to annual contributions in excess of $1 million from foundations and in some cases individuals. We are finding more results in major gifts.”

But the Salvation Army in Broward “is on the cusp of new big things in the coming year,” namely a March 9, 2024, fundraising event that will be part of a capital campaign next year. On Thursday, the organization will be launching a marketing campaign for its first “Red Shield Regatta” of a motorized model boat race.

“We expect to generate some significant revenue, particularly for our transitional housing facility in Hollywood,” Hayton said.

 An uphill climb against food insecurity

Another critical supporter of people in distress is Feeding South Florida, which has had to work harder to raise funds for its mission of reducing food insecurity, said president and CEO Francisco “Paco” Velez.

By the organization’s estimate, more than 1.2 million people in Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties “are experiencing food insecurity and one in nine individuals in South Florida remain uncertain about where they will get their next meal.”

“The donations have gone down since COVID last year versus this year,” he said in a phone interview Monday.

Part of the decline has to do with the lower visibility of those in need. During COVID, during any given day around South Florida, lines of cars could be seen extending for blocks from food distribution centers.

These days, the lines are gone but large numbers of people descend on food pantries the organization operates. There, people can calmly choose from a broad selection of food as opposed to receiving a bag of groceries through a car window. The pantry system is the method the organization prefers.

Over Thanksgiving, Feeding South Florida served up dinners to 7,000 South Florida families. It relies not only on contributions, but volunteers to help to inspect, sort and repack donated food in preparation for community distribution, and prepare, cook and pack meals at a community kitchen in Palm Beach County.

The organization maintains operation centers in Pembroke Park and Boynton Beach.

But Feeding South Florida is not totally dependent on individual donors. Major sponsors include Bank United, Carrier, Pfizer, Southeastern Grocers and Thoma Bravo.

The preponderance of charitable giving occurs during the final quarter of the calendar year, according to nonprofit organizations, as higher-income taxpayers weigh the tax benefits of giving.

But in an August report, the National Council of Nonprofits said that many organizations anticipate falling financial support this year. It could be a reflection of 2022, when charitable giving also declined.

In Florida, the report found 64.5% of nonprofits responding to a survey anticipate the amount of donations will decline or remain flat for 2023.

“This comes at a time when inflation has caused higher costs for services and demand for those services continues to rise,” the report said.

With relocations, big money comes to town

In South Florida, charitable giving appears to have followed the national pattern, with more wealthy donors upping their contributions while smaller donors hold back.

“Overall giving is down … due to economic constraints,” said Jennifer O’Flannery Anderson, CEO of the Community Foundation of Broward, which marries wealthy donors with projects that benefit communities countywide. “Overall, large institutions are relying more on mega gifts. You need those annual gifts to build your base of supporters.”

Recently, that base has grown in Broward County as high income executives and entrepreneurs have relocated to South Florida from other parts of the country.

“Our community has benefitted from a tremendous number of wealthy people who have come to Broward because of the tax and lifestyle climate,” she said.

In its most recent fiscal year ended Sept. 30, the foundation reported a record $19 million that funded 1,328 grants:of between $5,000 to $500,000 for a variety of causes ranging from education to environmental projects that benefitted some 300,000 county residents

“We did have a record fundraising last year of $73 million,” O’Flannery Anderson said. “We see more people doing their estate gifts and long term planning — that’s up.”

The foundation is among an array of big donors supporting the redevelopment of Huizenga Park in downtown Fort Lauderdale, a public event space bounded by Las Olas Boulevard, Andrews Avenue and the New River.

The Downtown Development Authority is conducting a GivingTuesday event in the lobby of The Main Las Olas between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. “for an inside look into the transformation of Downtown Fort Lauderdale’s signature park.”

People stroll near Huizenga Park in Fort Lauderdale on Dec. 19, 2022. The park will soon get a $15 million redesign along with a new two-story restaurant built by the same group that owns the Rusty Pelican in Key Biscayne.

Carline Jean / South Florida Sun Sentinel

People stroll near Huizenga Park in Fort Lauderdale. The park will soon get a million redesign along with a new two-story restaurant. The project is the focus of a GivingTuesday event designed to help raise private donations for the construction.

Steven Hudson, chairman of the nonprofit Huizenga Park Foundation, which is redeveloping the park named after his late uncle, billionaire entrepreneur H. Wayne Huizenga, said in a letter accompanying the GivingTuesday announcement that “it’s not often we get the chance to leave our mark on an iconic Fort Lauderdale asset to be enjoyed for generations to come.”

Last week, AutoNation, the Fort Lauderdale-based auto retailing giant that was founded by Huizenga, announced a $250,000 donation to the project.

“The first goal is to raise funds to reconstruct the park,” said Jenni Morejon, president and CEO of the Downtown Development Authority. “The longer term for the foundation is to have a nonprofit that manages, operates and maintains the park at a higher level of service than you typically get at a public park.”

Picking and choosing

Regardless of the project, donors in general should take care to research what their target charities do, how the money is used, and how it fits into their personal goals for charitable giving, said Laurie Styron, CEO and executive director of Chicago-based Charity Watch.

“I think the bottom line here is to be proactive in your giving — think about what causes are important to you,” she told the South Florida Sun Sentinel by phone Monday.

Styron said many donors have a tendency to “conflate the cause with charities,” meaning they’ll donate to an organization purporting to fight a disease like cancer, without learning what they actually do, such as conducting medical research, raising awareness, or providing care to those who are actually sick.

“We recommend that people think about the causes they care deeply about,” she said. “And just keep the donations down to a handful of organizations. Give larger amounts if you can to a small number of organizations.”

Information from the Associated Press was used to supplement this article.

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