NEW YORK, Dec. 7 (AP)--The markets are erratic, the economy is slowing. But America's charities say donors generally are maintaining and even exceeding the pace of last year's record-setting generosity.
"As of now, our responses are up to expectations," said John Shima, development director for Catholic Charities of New York. "We're keeping our fingers crossed."
Shima's organization raised more than $18 million in the last fiscal year and is on track to equal or surpass that performance.
Other charities are faring significantly better than a year ago, ranging from the American Cancer Society and the Volunteers of America to the 54 nonprofit groups represented by the National Alliance for Choice in Giving.
"Our members are experiencing another year of steady growth, by and large--10 to 20 percent growth," said the alliance's executive director, Matt Howe.
The alliance promotes donations through payroll deductions to organizations focusing primarily on social justice and the environment.
Mary Rossick Kern, a Denver-area philanthropist, said she and other donors she knows are monitoring long-term economic trends. But "I haven't heard anybody else doing anything drastic in terms of cutting back."
Last year, according to the Trust for Philanthropy, charitable giving in the United States surpassed $190 billion for the first time. Contributions were up from individuals, corporations and foundations.
Eugene Tempel, executive director of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, said numerous charities nationwide are heading toward another record fund-raising year.
In his own area around Indianapolis, Tempel said the Salvation Army's donations are up 2 percent, while the local United Way set a record.Many wealthy donors have been amassing investment gains over several years, Tempel said, and are likely to feel generous even if some holdings dip. He said the increased use of electronic stock transfers has benefited charities, making online donations quick and efficient.
Internet technology has helped Volunteers of America: Their familiar sidewalk Santa Claus has opened an online operation, and spokesman Carl Ericson said overall donations are running 25 percent ahead of last year.
Some charities are lagging behind last year, but in one notable case there is an upbeat reason for the drop. The American Red Cross has collected only $11.3 million so far this year for its disaster-relief fund, compared with $56 million at this date last year.
Red Cross officials noted that the organization responded to three major catastrophes in 1999--the Turkish earthquake, Hurricane Floyd and the Kosovo refugee crisis. This year, they said, there have been no comparable catastrophes and, for the first time in several years, no hurricane hit the U.S. coast.
"We don't want to give the impression that Red Cross doesn't need your gifts this year," said spokesmen Chris Paladino. "We're responding to disasters every day--whether it's a wildfire in the West or a house fire in Paterson, N.J. They just don't make the front page."
Jennifer Dunlap, Red Cross senior vice president for development, said non-disaster donations to the organization's annual fund are up 27 percent this year, but donations to most local chapters are down slightly.
"There are some things distracting folks right now, like the election," she said. "But I believe that by year's end, donors will respond."
On the West Coast, some charities attribute a dip in donations to the shakeout in the high-tech and Internet sector.
"Some dot-com donors have taken some real hits, but they're still being real generous," said Jack Shakely, president of the California Community Foundation. "Most West Coast nonprofits are probably down 5 or 10 percent."
He added: "We've had such enormous growth, and there's no way the charities could sustain that growth. There has to be a little breather, and this might be that year."
Computer networking giant Cisco Systems Inc. is one of the high-tech companies whose stocks have dropped this year. But executives said Cisco plans to expand corporate giving in 2001, and employees at its San Jose, Calif., headquarters have increased donations to the food bank Second Harvest from $1.3 million last year to $1.5 million this year.
"We're here for the long haul, and the charitable programs we design have to have that long-term view," said Matt James, a Cisco spokesman. "For some individuals, when stock goes down, it affects how you view your personal finances. But we haven't seen that translating into people saying, 'Gee, I'm not going to give as much this year.'"
Loren Renz, vice president for research with the Foundation Center in New York, said gifts from foundations are continuing at a strong pace because most were derived from endowments that grew tremendously during the '90s.
She said many foundations have diversified their portfolios in recent years, giving themselves some insulation from market downturns.