Editor’s note: This is the final in a two-part series. The first part appeared in the May 7 issue of the Ahwatukee Foothills News.
Non-profit organizations are no different than families and businesses when it comes to feeling the pinch of these tough economic times.
"Like any other organization, we feel the effects of the economy," said Jessica Douglas, spokesperson for Goodwill of Central Arizona. "Both the positive and the negative."
The various non-profit organizations in town find themselves trying to come up with fresh, new ways to collect donations.
Goodwill has teamed up with Dell Computers and is collecting ‘E-waste’ in Dell’s Reconnect program.
"We collect used computers, computer equipment, printers, cameras and other e-waste, refurbish them and re-enter them into the community," Douglas said.
There is a consensus among long-standing non-profit organizations, that they must work together more in order to weather the economy.
"I think it’s really important that all of the non-profits in the Valley band together and raise awareness of the way we collect donations," Douglas said. "We must all let community members know of the integrity of the organization they’re donating to."
Goodwill and other non-profits also are faced with competition from other organizations that collect in the Valley but don’t necessarily keep those donations inside the community and, in some cases, make profits from the contributions.
One of the easiest ways to make sure donations remain in the community is to take them directly to the donation center of a non-profit organization, officials from local non-profits said. When time doesn’t allow for that, they said, most of the non-profits in town have donation drives and are coming up with new ways to collect donations.
This year, Goodwill of Arizona had a donation drive at a Cubs spring training game where fans could bring unwanted clothing or household items, and Goodwill collected them before the game.
Those new tactics are making donating more convenient while keeping the same standard of accountability, officials said.
"We do have financial limits," said Dennis Sullivan, vice president of the St. Vincent de Paul chapter at Corpus Christi Catholic Church. "There is only so much help we can give to a client in a calendar year."
St. Vincent de Paul collects clothing donations at participating parishes or directly at its downtown processing center on West Watkins Road in Phoenix.
"Our donation center has people who will process the donations, clean them and give them either directly to the homeless or to one of our severely discounted thrift shops," Sullivan said.
St. Vincent de Paul also operates Christmas giving trees and maintains poor boxes and food carts at participating churches.
In the current economic climate, St. Vincent de Paul has experienced a decrease in donations, but "they (parishioners) are still giving, yes, amazingly so with the current economic crisis, people have had to cut back but others have stepped forward," Sullivan said.
Adapting to the times and the difficulties of competition for donations has made the various non-profit organizations break the once tried-and-true molds of charity by staying current on technology and putting novel methods in place in an attempt to spread their message and appeal.
Since its establishment in 1893, the Salvation Army of Arizona has provided services to children, homeless people, the working poor, and the elderly and abused. Today, the Salvation Army is trying to stay fresh by trying new methods of outreach.
"Recently, we have gone into Facebook, and we’re looking at various social media to see if there are ways to communicate with an audience different from our donor base and try and build credibility from those groups," said Col. Olin Hogan, Phoenix city coordinator of the Salvation Army.
The Salvation Army, like other charities in the Valley, is aware of donors’ concern that what they give goes directly where intended. The Salvation Army provides a printed record that a gift reaches where it has been planned to go and, according to Hogan, the organization has "yet to see any money go astray."
The Salvation Army, along with operating bins and donation centers, has an online donation program where donors can give money and designate where in the country their money goes.
All of the donations collected in town benefit to the community in full, even the donations that need to be repackaged for other purposes.
"There is a way to bundle up clothing and sell it used for wipers," Hogan said. "100 percent of the money made goes back to our drug and alcohol rehab program."
One of the first charities in Phoenix to operate clothing donation bins that now can be seen in abundance is Swift Charities for Children. Swift chooses to "take the high road" in the competition between for-profit and non-profit companies for donations collected in the bins, said Jim Stone, executive director of Swift Charities For Children.
"Before, we (non-profits) just stayed out of each others’ way and had our own niches, but then these people came in the middle of the night and placed collection boxes at locations without their permission," Stone said. "They muddy the water, and it’s difficult to go toe to toe with these people from out of town."
Swift has signed letters of permission from each of the locations where their bins are placed and the only source of donations for Swift are those bins.
Partnerships with schools is Swift’s new way of ensuring that they still collect enough donations to uphold the commitments they have made to different organizations.
"Schools might be it, they have control over their territory and whose bins are in their parking lots," Stone said. "They say who stays and if someone goes and drops a collection box without permission, they remove it the next day."
Stone thinks that recycling programs with schools are a way to achieve a far reach and benefit both the schools and the various charities with whom Swift works.
"Then we generate money for those individual schools, and it’s a great model because now schools need more money than ever," Stone said.
Corey Ramirez is a freelance journalist and graduate of the University of Arizona School of Journalism. Reach him at (602) 499-1497 or CTPRamirez@gmail.com.