11 December 2008

SOS Children's Villages Featured in Washington Times Cover Story

12/09/08 - SOS Children's Villages, the world's largest charity dedicated to orphaned and abandoned children, was featured on the front page of The Washington Times. Heather Paul, CEO of SOS Children's Villages - USA, and her team were recognized for innovative fundraising methods such as the World Orphan Week video contest, designed to raise awareness for orphans throughout the world.

The contest sparked great interest in SOS and is one of several innovative methods SOS is using to help combat the economic downturn.

Read the entire article below, courtesy of The Washington Times.

Heather Paul
Heather Paul, CEO of SOS Children's Villages - USA

Charity donation decline gives rise to innovation
Contests, Web sites keep money flowing

By Jillian Badanes

As the housing market crashed, credit markets froze and stock prices fell, the District-based charity SOS Children's Villages watched its donations dwindle.

"We haven't come to a screeching halt, but we are in a slowdown," said Heather Paul, president of the charity, which runs villages for orphaned and abandoned children in the United States and 169 other countries.

So Miss Paul and her 11-member staff got creative.

They announced a contest to see who could produce the best video advertisement for their cause. The result: Traffic on their Web site tripled and donations doubled in just a few short weeks. SOS even increased the number of subscribers to its electronic newsletter by 10 percent.

During these tough economic times, SOS and other charities are doing all sorts of things to keep donations flowing. Some are cutting back on their programs, but many others are trying to get people to open their wallets wider than ever by creating interactive Web sites and intensifying their calls for help.

"Are organizations worried? Absolutely," said Jeff Wilklow, a fundraising consultant with Campbell and Co. But most charities also are working harder to get the money they need.

More than one-third of charities nationwide have seen a decrease in donations this year, and most charities report that fewer individuals are giving now than they did a year ago, according to Guidestar, a research organization.

At the same time, the need for charitable services is as high or higher than ever. A majority of charities say they see more demand for their services because of growing unemployment and other economic woes.

For most charities, the next few weeks will be vital. It's a time year when needs are great and when charitable giving usually peaks.

Even the Salvation Army, known for its storefront bell ringers, has had to adjust.

People are doing shopping online, so we want to make sure we are accessible in many ways," said Melissa Temme, director of public relations for the Salvation Army.

With its Onlineredkettle.com, the Salvation Army has taken the iconic image of a bell ringer to the Web. The site allows volunteers to create their own sites and their own kettles. Each volunteer can customize a page and ask friends, family and co-workers to donate.

Onlineredkettle.com opened Nov. 17 and so far has raised more than $200,000. Its goal is $1 million by year's end.

Goodwill Industries, one of the world's largest providers of job training and career services for homeless and low-income people, has seen a 25 percent drop in individual gifts this year. To offset that decline, it too has restructured its fundraising strategy, focusing more on online giving and less on its retail stores.

Goodwill has tried to attract more buyers of its trademark vintage clothing by boosting its Web site. Sites like dcgoodwillfashions.blogspot.com feature shopping tips and Web videos that try to make hand-me-down clothes seem cool to purchase.

Fifteen percent of people who have viewed those videos and 7.6 percent of the people who read the blogs become shoppers on the online site, Goodwill Industries reports.

But some charities are cutting back in anticipation of hard times.

The American Red Cross postponed a gala event that was asking donors for $800 per plate. Originally set for March, the event now is scheduled for October. Nan Moring of the American Red Cross for the National Capital Area said she hopes the extra time will help make the event more successful.

In the meantime, the Red Cross is asking its supporters to donate from home.

"We are saying, 'Save money. Don't go buy a dress. Stay in where it's warm and make a donation to the Red Cross,'" Miss Moring said.

A "non-event e-vite" will go out to the Red Cross' 35,000 District-area supporters soon.

Baystate Health Foundation, in Springfield, Mass., plans to build what development Vice President Susan Toner describes as "a hospital of the future." The estimated cost is $500 million, so the foundation set a target of $17 million to $22 million from its small group of consistent donors this year.

But many donors are now unsure of their own financial futures and have resisted the entreaty. "We had to slow down the process dramatically," said Miss Toner. "We are trying to get loans and struggling to find funding."

Baystate is still moving forward with the project, but what might have been a three-year project more likely will take 10 years to allow time for donors to pay off their gifts.

"We're all waiting to see if the season of giving this year will be the season of a lot less giving," said Miss Paul, of SOS. "We're being cautious and operating on that fear."