Nonprofits try to put ‘summer slump’ behind them

This summer was long and difficult for Colorado Springs and the state as a whole: There were droughts, fires, floods and budget cuts — and needs soared.

“Two years in a row with major catastrophes in these areas, losing lots and lots of homes … it’s a lot to respond to,” said Larry Yonker, chief development officer for local nonprofit Springs Rescue Mission. “Those things create greater demand for our resources.”

Many organizations that responded during the summer months — namely those distributing food and other essentials — faced both limited resources and higher demand.

“We’ve had good growth in the last few years, and the community certainly supported us,” Yonker said. “But with the increased demand on services for the community … it’s put a greater strain on us than expected.”

Summer slump

Across the nation, summer means fewer resources and more needs — donation wanes and necessity peaks. The decline in charitable giving during June, July and August is often referred to as the “summer slump,” which some attribute to donor fatigue or preoccupation. But some local leaders say such a slump can be avoided by planning ahead and carefully watching resources.

“We don’t really experience [a summer slump],” said Lorri Orwig, chief development officer for Silver Key Senior Services. “We try not to do much [fundraising] during the heart of the summer because everyone is on vacation and you just won’t get the response you’re looking for.”

Fall fundraising can help organizations erase a tough summer, but Care and Share Food Bank for Southern Colorado President and CEO Lynne Telford says there are some inevitable challenges during the summer months. She says people often forget these issues during summer, with school breakfast and lunch programs inactive and donors preoccupied with work, vacation and childcare.

One lesson nonprofits learned last year was how to handle disaster.

“The fires were certainly difficult, but we learned a lot from the Waldo Canyon Fire [of 2012],” Telford said.

During this year’s Black Forest Fire relief efforts, more than 1,800 Care and Share volunteers contributed nearly 5,000 combined hours of work, according to a July 2013 report.

“We’re not seeing [this year’s disasters] are taking away from our general donations,” Telford said, “but it was difficult.”

Yonker, however, said that Springs Rescue Mission’s in-kind food donations for July and August were down close to $150,000 and that total income for that period suffered a $10,000 hit.

“During the summer months, nonprofits really make plans for fall,” said David Somers, executive director of the Springs-based Center for Nonprofit Excellence. “I think the difference between the two periods may look stark, but it’s just a difference in strategy. The difficulty is meeting that demand and stretching that budget in order to do so.”

Fall fundraising

Local nonprofits tend to see an uptick in giving during the fall months, when folks are more settled in and the holiday season is fast approaching.

Springs Rescue Mission experiences an influx in funds during autumn, which Yonkers said accounts for one-third of the annual revenue: “Even since I’ve been here it has been really strong … a really strong fall.”

The same goes for Share and Care, which Telford said receives most of its dollars in November and December.

“People are really great at remembering us during the holidays,” Telford said. “The biggest thing about fall is our push for the food drive. We’ll also be doing more personal followups than in the past — we’re going to reach out and make sure that we create a personal connection.”

Telford said the fall is prime time for food drives and collections, and that Care and Share has new features including an online application and cellphone donation methods.

“We’re trying to make it more fun,” she said, adding that the nonprofit has also been successful with successful with texting campaigns in which donors can pledge $10 by texting words such as HUNGRY or FIRE a specified number. The gift is then processed through the donor’s phone account straight to the organization’s coffers.

Yonker also said that digital and social media have become valuable tools for fundraising.

“We’ve launched a great deal of social enterprise on Facebook … media exposure and [public relations] are the greatest … and there’s been a good response,” he said.

That seems to be where much support comes from: community. Online or in person, people rely on each other.

“We’re always really conscious about what our partners in the community are doing,” Orwig said. “I think it’s all about knowing what is going on in the community. It all depends on need and competition.”

Nonprofit numbers

• There are a total of about 2,000 local nonprofits, of which around 800 are churches, with an estimated $1.7 billion impact on the local economy.

• The local nonprofit industry brings in a hefty $3.1 billion each year, accounting for about 17,000 direct jobs and 10,000 indirect jobs.