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CURRENT ISSUE:  April 27, 2009
VOL. 47, NO. 8   •   Oakland, CA
Other front page stories
Parishes invited to work on environment through promises of St. Francis covenant
Comments begin on NIH draft guidelines on stem cell research
International relief
facing downturn

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (CNS) — Ruben Sanchez said he worries that the global economic meltdown will make it difficult for his charitable agency to continue funding many self-sustaining projects for the Dominican Republic’s poor.

A Sudanese woman stands near her shelter at a camp for the internally displaced in Sudan’s Darfur region, March 12. Nearly 5 million people are estimated to be displaced within Sudan. Relief agencies worry that the high cost of food and fuel, coupled with a loss in financial donations, will mean they cannot offer the help that is needed in impoverished countries.
“Donations are noticeably down,” said Sanchez, 52, vice president of projects for De Mi Casa A Tu Casa Inc., a philanthropic organization based in San Juan de la Maguana.

“Right now 90 percent of my focus is looking for funds (from) where we’ve never received them before,” Sanchez said. “The downturn has only slowed a few of our current projects in helping the poor here in the D.R. and in Haiti. But, if this continues, it could force us to rethink our future projections.”

Charitable organizations around the world are feeling the pinch of the economic crisis and are responding in a variety of ways, from salary freezes to the suspension of services.

Between October and March, the Baltimore-based Catholic Relief Services experienced about a 12 percent drop in unrestricted donations compared to the same period a year ago, said Michael Wiest, executive vice president of charitable giving for CRS, the U.S. bishops’ international relief and development agency. He said CRS was forced to decrease its presence in South America and Eastern Europe and temporarily suspend U.S. educational programs in parishes and Catholic universities.

“First and foremost, our executives have been trying to sustain our mission to the fullest extent possible during this economic recession,” said Ken Hackett, president of CRS. “All decisions that were made were guided by our Catholic social teaching principles and our mission as an agency.”

That includes personal sacrifice by members of the staff. Effective April 16, salary cuts were imposed on all CRS employees, ranging from 1.5 percent for the lowest-paid employees to 10 percent for the highest-salary earners, Hackett said.

Another CRS employee sacrifice will come in the form of the temporary suspension of agency contributions to their retirement savings plans and the elimination of carry-over vacation days, but the organization has managed to avoid layoffs, Hackett said.

“The real challenge lies in the year ahead. No one knows what is going to happen,” said Holly Ball, head of fundraising and marketing for the London-based Catholic Agency for Overseas Development, known as CAFOD.

Anticipating that donations will be down, CAFOD has developed a scale-back plan that would reduce some of its work in a few unspecified countries, Ball said.

“The biggest impact on overseas work is from the currency devaluation,” she said. “Many of our grants are paid in U.S. dollars, so they are costing us about 30 percent more, and that hurts.

“The high cost of food and fuel in developing countries since the recession began is also having a big impact,” she said. “Unless we can raise substantial new income over the next year, we may have to scale back some of our work or even stop working in a few countries. But we are mitigating that risk as much as we can.”

Tim O’Connor, a spokesman for Caritas Australia, said the number of donors has risen this year, but the average size of the contributions is smaller than in previous years.

The faltering economic situation has made it even more important for the agency to be creative in its fundraising efforts, O’Connor said.

The agency has been soliciting donations from families who received the $900 grant from the Australian government as part of that country’s economic stimulus, “to support Caritas Australia programs both in Australia and internationally,” he said.

Though Food for the Poor, a Florida-based Christian aid agency, actually saw its donation dollars increase so far in 2009 over the same period in 2008, the international organization is cutting in-house expenses in case the uncertain economy reduces the agency’s revenues in the future, said Angel A. Aloma, executive director of the organization.

CRS has seen an increase in government grants, CAFOD has received more money in legacy giving this year, and all the representatives from the agencies interviewed said their donors’ desire to give has been encouraging.

“As faith-based organizations, our donors are more likely to stick with us during hard times as well as the good times,” Ball said. “They give as part of their faith and understand that poorer societies need our help, love and compassion more than ever.”

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