Thursday, September 20, 2001

Michael Titterton is president of Hawaii Public Radio, one of the
agencies expressing uncertainty over fund-raising goals.

Local charities
need help, too

Some fear the recent tragedies and
slowing economy may tighten
people's purse strings

By B.J. Reyes

For Michael Titterton, president and general manager of Hawaii Public Radio, "fear" may not be the right word to describe his feelings of competing for charity dollars with groups aiding victims of last week's terrorist attacks.

"I would say more like white-knuckle terror," he said with a nervous laugh.

Though not completely serious, Titterton acknowledged concerns that donations to groups specifically aiding terrorist attack victims may leave little left over for other nonprofit organizations that rely heavily on charitable contributions.

"We're largely dependent on listener donations," Titterton said yesterday. "The biggest concern now is how to go about that business -- and it's very much a part of our business -- and how to do it in good taste."

Since last Tuesday's tragedies in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania, donations have flooded organizations aiding the victims. The NY Firefighter's 9-11 Disaster Relief Fund alone has raised more than $3.3 million, according to a donation Web site hosted by Yahoo!

Donations to groups helping victims, combined with a general uncertainty over the economy, have the potential to reduce the flow of funds to other charities, one economist said.

"People tighten the purse strings when they're concerned about their economic future," said Eric Drabkin, an associate professor of economics at Hawaii Pacific University. "I would imagine that if I'm going to give $100 here to this source, that's going to be $100 less to some other source.

"I could be wrong. There does seem to be a large outpouring of support."

That's the feeling of Irv Lauber, president of Aloha United Way.

The organization launched its $13.6 million general campaign drive earlier this month. Though it is too early to tell how the campaign might be affected, Lauber said he does not think donors will forget other charities such as his.

"My sense is, we have a community that is generous and supportive," Lauber said. "I don't have any scientific facts, just my sharpened instincts after 32 years doing this kind of work."

Donna Bebber, director of development for the Honolulu Symphony, shared Lauber's optimism. Contributions make up about half of the symphony's $3 million annual development budget.

"I feel people will support things like this (terrorism attack relief effort) but also realize that organizations like the symphony do need their support," Bebber said. "I do feel that people give extra in times of crisis, and they dig a little bit deeper."

Another nonprofit waiting to see if donations taper off is Easter Seals Hawaii.

Although the organization achieved its goal of $70,000 at a recent fund-raising golf tournament, one official said he expects at least some decline in contributions.

"We know a lot of money people had earmarked for their favorite charities probably is going to go toward more human service-type organizations like the Red Cross," said John Howell, president and chief executive officer of Easter Seals Hawaii.

"It's certainly understandable," Howell added. "It just means that we -- as nonprofits -- we're going to have to get a lot sharper and focused on how we run our businesses."

Hawaii Public Radio will find out soon enough whether it will be adversely affected by donations heading elsewhere: An on-air fund-raising drive is scheduled to begin Oct. 10.

Listener donations make up 53 percent of HPR's annual budget of about $1 million, Titterton said. The goal of the upcoming fund-raising drive is $347,000.

"As far as trying to predict the outcome, that'll always drive you crazy even when times are good," Titterton said. "I can't even begin to predict how this fund-raiser will go."

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