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Charitable Giving

By
From the December 2013 issue of Columbus CEO

Central Ohioans can choose to donate funds to a variety of good causes.

Give Americans a chance, and they’ll show remarkable generosity.

“More and more people are interested in philanthropy, and interested in understanding the issues facing our community,” says Kermit Whitfield, spokesman for United Way of Central Ohio.

Whitfield’s observation is backed by data from the National Philanthropic Trust. According to the organization, 88 percent of Americans engage in charitable giving. In 2012, that amounted to $316.2 billion, up from $298 billion the previous year. In the shadow of the recession, philanthropic giving is increasing.

Central Ohio charities and nonprofits are reaching out to their donor bases and the wider community in order to keep that generosity flowing. With the advent of giving portals online and the guidance of established organizations like the United Way, giving has become simple and convenient for donors.

THE BIG PICTURE

Locally, the United Way of Central Ohio distributes a large portion of the community’s charitable dollars. The organization supports 160 programs that help to improve the state of education, income, health and home.

Among those programs are Stable Families, a homelessness prevention program that helps people stay in their homes and keeps children in their familiar schools. In 2012, the program reported a 96 percent success rate, with 234 families making the transition from the program to a stable home. Of the 353 children in those families, only one had an unplanned change of school.

Another program called Tax Time provided free tax preparation for 14,530 low- and middle-income families in 2013, and helped those families claim $14.8 million in tax refunds.

Columbus Kids: Ready, Set, Learn! is an early learning program led by the United Way. It helps identify learning delays and prepare students for entry into kindergarten. In its first four years, the program has served 10,000 children.

“Right now in Central Ohio, the major issue is poverty. We’re trying to help people build pathways out of poverty,” says Whitfield.

He says most people aren’t aware that one in three Franklin County residents is living in poverty. Once people understand the need, there remains the daunting task of finding a worthy charity. Organizations like United Way observe and rate charities and eliminate the guesswork. “We are only investing our donors’ money in programs that are effective,” he says.

FOR THE KIDS

Sometimes the most important function a charity can perform is to simply help people get through one day and into the next. In other cases, it’s just a matter of reintroducing a little normalcy for people who are worn down from a struggle.

A Kid Again does that very thing for families in Columbus, Cincinnati, Cleveland and Dayton, says Jeff Damron, executive director of the organization. “A Kid Again provides hope, happiness and healing for families raising kids with life threatening illness,” says Damron.

Much of the organization’s focus is on the siblings of sick children. In many cases, mothers quit their jobs and spend countless hours at the hospital, leaving fathers with multiple jobs and the chore of making ends meet. During this struggle, siblings are often left feeling unloved and unimportant, Damron says. Jealousy can further complicate already raw emotions, he adds.

“If the sick child passes away, sometimes siblings of certain ages are worried that they caused it by wishing for it, and they can feel guilt for years,” Damron says. A Kid Again helps heal families by, as he puts it, giving illness a time out. The organization sponsors dozens of events each year, during which the families can simply feel normal.

In 2012, A Kid Again touched the lives of 12,042 sick children and their families. Corporate partners are invaluable to that effort.

Each year, Kings Island gives more than $250,000 in tickets to the organization so that thousands of people can come to the park, ride coasters and forget their problems for a few hours. This year, 3,400 people attended the event.

In 2014, A Kid Again will erect in the park a 42-inch bronze statue of Gabriel Taylor, a child who was an inspiration to many before he succumbed to osteosarcoma. Taylor’s statue will be a memorial to the families who fight, as well as a thank you to Kings Island for having donated 50,000 tickets in the past 15 years.

A Kid Again hosts an array of events in Columbus. Among them is a yearly Las Vegas-style magic show at the Riffe Center that is part fundraiser, part fun night out for the families. Once every summer, the Columbus Zoo closes to the public and hosts hundreds of families from the organization.

Some of A Kid Again’s events aim to nurture the parent-child bonds that can be strained in times of family crisis. Every year, the organization sends moms and daughters to Charles Penzone Grand Salons so they can enjoy a day of pampering together. Each July, the group’s fathers and sons spend a day playing basketball in uniform with the Ohio State University’s men’s basketball team. The Buckeyes then accompany the kids and dads to Magic Mountain for an afternoon of video games, pizza and go-kart racing.

In spite of corporate sponsorship—like Barbasol’s $1,000 donation for each Buckeye touchdown—the organization also relies on individual gifts of money, time and merchandise. The organization operates on a budget of about $1 million in cash each year, but receives much more than that in in-kind donations.

Pete Miller believes thoroughly in the organization, and so he gives of his time, money and resources. Miller is the immediate past chairman of A Kid Again. A longtime member of the paving industry, Miller used his connections in the construction business to lead the 2013 Full Throttle Open, a construction-themed golf outing. The one-day event netted $72,000 for A Kid Again.

Miller also plays Santa at the organization’s annual Christmas party, where the holiday spirit helps kids escape the rigors of their everyday lives. He says he finds the organization worth supporting because of the deep difference it makes for so many children.

“The resilience of these kids is unbelievable,” says Miller. “When you see what they go through and then see how much they enjoy these events, it makes every minute worth it.”

Both Miller and Damron speak passionately about the organization. A Kid Again makes a real difference in the lives of those who give, as well as those who receive, they say.

“You can be very selfish person when you do this,” says Damron. “Because it doesn’t matter what you do for these kids. They always give more back to you, and your life is blessed like you would never believe.”

SUPPORTING ACADEMICS

Education is a popular cause for donors hoping their contributions will yield long-term returns. COSI, the Center of Science and Industry, is high on the list of sentimental favorites in Columbus. That’s true for STEM professionals as well as Columbus natives who remember the museum fondly from their childhood experiences with rat basketball, the Street of Yesteryear and the electrostatic generator.

“COSI is really about inspiring interest in science and encouraging people to learn more about their world,” says Abigail Rosenberger, senior director of development for COSI. She says the center’s mission relates directly to the workforce of tomorrow, a factor that will affect all aspects of society. “We need people who want to be in science technology, engineering, and math careers,” she says. “We are inspiring that interest and providing exposure those types of careers.”

Rosenberger says 97 percent of COSI’s annual $17 million budget comes from donations and earned income, like admissions. The additional three percent comes from grants, but none of the budget is tax-funded. It’s a sink-or-swim proposition for COSI, but there is no shortage of people who believe in the cause.

In 2012, volunteers logged more than 108,000 hours, which Rosenberger says amounts to a $1.5 million value to COSI. “Our volunteers are an essential part of our operation,” she says.

Volunteers greet guests, man exhibits, give presentations and more. In addition to its exhibits, COSI offers academic programs like engineering workshops for teen girls; live televised knee replacement surgeries; and opportunities for high school students to connect with science professionals out in the community.

The center’s educational outreach program, COSI on Wheels, serves about 300,000 children annually through visits to schools and community organizations. COSI overnights for scout troops are a longstanding Columbus tradition, and even infants get in on the exploration by mastering the laws of physics in Little Kid Space. The organization also offers a sliding scale for membership fees.

“All of our work is made possible by donations,” Rosenberger says. The giving comes in all forms, from members adding one dollar on to their entrance fees, to individual and corporate donors financing particular exhibits. Many donors choose to upgrade their COSI memberships to support an organization they value, get a tax deduction and enjoy a few perks. Supporting members are invited to special events and can engage with the organization in special ways, Rosenberger says.

COSI will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2014, and Rosenberger says plans are underway to launch a fundraising effort that will bolster museum resources as well as give donors a very special way to commemorate their love for COSI.

PROVIDING SHELTER

CHOICES, the only domestic violence shelter in Central Ohio, has been in that situation. The shelter recently turned over operations to the Lutheran Social Services of Central Ohio while the organizations negotiate a merger. Housed in a very old building at a secret location, the shelter has 29 beds and five cribs. Those beds are frequently full.

Families stay in the shelter for an average of a few weeks. During their stay, CHOICES families have access to individual and group counseling, assistance with goal setting and job seeking, and help in finding a safe new place to live. Residents have individual bedrooms but share a common living space; cooking and other household duties are communally shared in the shelter’s family-like atmosphere.

Sue Villilo, CHOICES’ interim director, says the shelter needs $1.6 million annually to operate at its current size. CHOICES has only been bringing in about $1.2 million a year from donors. “As you can see, that couldn’t be sustained for very long,” says Villilo.

NON-HUMAN NEEDS

Some donors have an especially soft spot for four-legged creatures. As Rachel Finney, executive director of the Capital Area Humane Society says, many people feel compelled to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.

The humane society is a “charitably funded law enforcement agency,” Finney says. The organization receives $30,000 in tax monies each year to fund its cruelty investigations, but the remainder of its $2.1 million budget is comprised of donations and adoption fees. While the Franklin County Dog Shelter houses stray dogs, the humane society houses dogs, cats and 28 other species including ferrets, turtles, rabbits and occasionally something a little more unusual like a goat or an alligator. It recently took in 56 chickens and ducks seized from the backyard of a west Columbus home.

The organization also is working to raise funds to trap, neuter and release feral cats. When running, the program can serve 25 animals per day at a cost of $1,000.

It also serves as a domestic violence shelter for pets. “We help animals, but we also help people,” Finney says. “We serve as a safe haven for pets, offering temporary and completely free shelter when there is domestic violence.” Finney says 80 percent of people in a domestic violence situation report that the animal has been involved in the abuse, and many people report that they fear what will happen if they leave the pet behind.

“It is a major barrier, so we take the pet while the human members of the family seek safety,” Finney says. Food, boarding and veterinary care are all covered, and all paid for thanks to generous supporters of the organization.

Finney says youth groups, schools and other organizations are helpful in providing in-kind donations of pet supplies. The diet of the resident animals is carefully regulated, but donated food is kept on hand to stock a food bank for people who are considering surrendering their animal because they can’t afford to feed it.

Another important resource is volunteer hours, which amounted to 34,000 in 2012. About 600 volunteers are active with the shelter at any one time, providing tasks ranging from walking pets to performing administrative duties to helping visitors through the adoption process.

This month, the organization will celebrate 130 years of service. “If people are considering a gift, I would remind them that they are touching 9,300 lives, and that’s just the number of animals served each year,” when the human factor is considered, the benefit becomes that much greater, she says.

Kristin Campbell is a freelance writer.