updated 9/26/2005 12:11:40 PM ET 2005-09-26T16:11:40

As Rita delivered another blow to the Gulf Coast this weekend, nonprofits were already worried that their usual donors – fatigued by Katrina collections – would cut giving to local charities.

"We're all very nervous to see how this will impact the end-of-year giving," said Ellen Stein Wallace, executive director of SafeHouse Denver. She and other nonprofit leaders have some reason for nervousness, as previous disasters have shown.

After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, there was an outpouring of generosity. But studies since have shown that nonprofits took a hit from that event, the Denver Business Journal reports.

The Association of Fundraising Professionals found that half of charities had seen donations increase through August 2001 and nearly half saw donations drop off after the event. CommUlinks of Colorado noticed similar results in a survey after last year's South Asian tsunami. Half of nonprofits reported revenue drops in the first quarter, with more than 56 attributing the declines to the tsunami.

Giving to help the victims of Katrina had topped $1 billion within a couple weeks of the catastrophe, the Nashville Business Journal reports. The help has included large donations from companies and rich individuals. But it has also been a matter of smaller donations such as the collection of more than $500,000 by the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Louisville reported by Louisville Business First and plans by banks to turn reward points to cash for victims reported by the Birmingham Business Journal. By late last week, some of the fundraising attention had already shifted to victims of Rita. In Austin, organizers of a concert originally scheduled to raise money for Katrina victims added Rita evacuees to the list of beneficiaries.

But that giving, and aid to those affected by Rita, comes at a particularly difficult time for local charities gearing up for the prime fall and Christmas fundraising seasons.

"For most of us, that's when we get the largest amount," Wallace told the Denver Business Journal.

The answer, nonprofit leaders say, is to encourage giving both to hurricane relief and local causes.

"We're all moved by what we see down there and the instinct is to want to help, which is great," Tom Ross, president of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, told The Business Journal of the greater Triad area of N.C. "But the question is: How does that affect the local nonprofit sector? Hopefully, we can encourage people to (give to) both."

That's exactly what the United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta Inc. was doing earlier this month, the Atlanta Business Chronicle reports. That organization raised its annual fundraising goal to $86.5 million from $75 million in 2004.

"We've just got to ask people to dig a little deeper, work a little harder and see if they can find it in their hearts to provide a little more money," Georgia-Pacific Corp. President Lee Thomas, the campaign chairman, said.

For areas such as Georgia, northern Alabama and Texas that had already taken on large numbers Katrina evacuees, the importance of local fundraising has taken on new urgency. "In the case of Hurricane Katrina, the victims are now here in our communities," Mark O'Connell, president of the United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta, told the Atlanta Business Chronicle.

About $76.5 million of the money raised this fall was going to Georgia United Way's annual fund, with another $10 million for the estimated 50,000 evacuees the state expected from Hurricane Katrina.

In Tennessee, "Many local nonprofits have experienced an incredible surge in the demand for their services as a result of Hurricane Katrina," said Mike Neal, president of Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce. "We know the Nashville Area Red Cross, United Way of Metropolitan Nashville, the Salvation Army of Nashville and Second Harvest Food Bank have been heavily involved in relief efforts, placing a strain on the resources of these organizations."

American City Business Journals, Inc.


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