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Nonprofit organizations face tough decisions

Nonprofit organizations face tough decisions
Andy Mulholland and his wife, Ellyn brought ther nieces and nephew to Hy-Vee North in December to ring Salvation Army bells and sing Christmas carols.

Southeastern Minnesota residents continue to be generous to nonprofit organizations, but many givers are facing difficult decisions because there are so many needs.

"We all get so many solicitations," said Paul Harkess, president of the Rochester chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

That, coupled with less discretionary spending for both businesses and individuals, created some hard choices. People who typically gave to two organizations, for example, maybe only gave to one last year, he said.

Organizations also had to decide the best ways to go after donors.

Some local organizations found success with online giving using websites such as GiveMN.org. Others, such as the Ronald McDonald House, hosted formal social events.


National studies project an increase in charitable giving for 2011. That's reflective of what we'll see in Rochester, Harkess said.

"By in large people want to help out the community and want to give back to something that's been meaningful to them," Harkess said.

Christmas is silver lining for Salvation Army

After a year in which donations were steady to slightly down but programs and services were ramping up to meet the growing needs of the community, the Salvation Army in Rochester worried if it would make its budget.

"If there was a bright light, it was Christmas," Salvation Army Maj. James Frye said.

In 2009, a record-breaking bell ringing campaign brought in $290,000. Hoping to top that, the Salvation Army set its 2010 goal at $300,000.

Getting there was more important than ever, with more people coming to the soup kitchen, but also more difficult, especially after two weekends of snowstorms kept people away from stores and the kettles.

"What's nice about Rochester, if we put out a plea out that we're really in trouble, they do more than ever before," he said.


Individuals, groups and businesses came forward to ring bells.

"We even had a baby pony at Walmart," Frye said.

Through the help of the community $303,322 was raised. Even so, the total collected was slightly down, he said.

The number of people who came to the Salvation Army's free Christmas dinner almost doubled, as more children and families came in, he said.

Needs are expected to increase this year. For one thing, state and federal money provided over the last two years to help people stay in their homes will be ending in September.

The organization is currently revising its budget and look at cuts or ways to do things differently and still be able to help more people, Frye said.

Keeping the community United

The United Way of Olmsted County saw an increase in philanthropy overall last year compared to 2009, executive director Karen Erlenbusch said. But the fundraising campaign isn't over yet.


The organization's goal is to raise $5 million to support education, income, health and community basics through an ongoing effort. The official tally will be announced at a March 23 celebration.

It's not about raising money for the United Way, but to make sure more kids are ready for kindergarten, Erlenbusch said. "Those are the messages that resonate with all of us."

An ongoing challenge is "to help show the connection that I have to you and you have to me, and that we are only strong as a community when we are all strong and healthy," Erlenbusch said.

Natural disasters increase Red Cross needs

When natural disasters such as last year's earthquake, tornado and floods strike the Red Cross is there to help. And fortunately community members have also been there to support the Red Cross, said Melanie Tschida, executive director of the Southeast Minnesota Chapter of the American Red Cross.

In the aftermath of the earthquake that struck Haiti in January 2010, local residents raised more than $175,000, which was forwarded to Haiti for earthquake relief. Another $30,000 was raised following a tornado that hit Rochester and the outlying area in June. Local residents then came forward with $370,000 to help after the biggest local natural disaster that struck last year, the September floods.

And while the organization is grateful that people respond in the wake of disasters to support relief efforts, that can cut into regular fundraising for operations, Tschida said.

"There is only so much that people can give," she said.


And while the organization ended 2010 about where it expected, there is concern about donor fatigue setting in this year, she said.

"We're anticipating 2011 to be a challenge because of the generosity of 2010," Tschida said.

Plus the organization is already anticipating likelihood of spring flooding, she said.

"The predictions are pretty sobering in the surrounding communities that are served out of our office," she said. "Hopefully people see the relevance of what we're doing and those that can donate will."

New programs create more need at Channel One

Not only are more people coming through the doors at Channel One Food Bank and Food Shelf , but the food shelf is also working on more ways to get food out to people in need.

To serve people in the rural areas of the 14-county region served by Channel One, the organization is working on expanding its mobile food pantry, executive director Cynthia Shaffer said.

Channel One also started a new program in which students on the free and reduced lunch program receive a backpack full of kid-friendly food each Friday. The program is already underway at seven schools, with three or four more starting this spring, said spokeswoman Jennifer Woodford. Eight churches already on board helping pack the backpacks and get them to the schools and pick them up.


More programs, however, means a need for more food and funds. A strong finish last year meant the organization was just able to meet its December budget, Woodford said.

The student food drive last year also saw a significant increase in the pounds of food brought in, with 77,000, she said. Also, the local letter carriers collection in May doubled the pounds of food brought in, thanks in part to bright blue donated plastic bags distributed to each home as a reminder of the following weekend's collection, Woodford said.

The annual Boy Scout food drive should also make a bigger impact this year when it's moved to March, she said.

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