Remember Nonprofit Organizations When Making Christmas List

Article excerpt

NEW YORK - If you get the urge to play Santa Claus to the less fortunate at this holiday season, you won't just be doing good - you'll be carrying out an act of national economic policy.

The Reagan administration may not have done anything discernible to curb the explosion in such big-ticket budget items as defense and entitlements, but over the last four years the federal government has shaved more than $108 billion from social and welfare programs.

The president called on private citizens, employing "voluntarism," to help plug the gaps left by government cuts in such areas as health and hospitals, education, social welfare and arts and the humanities - and, according to a survey specially prepared for this column, many Americans (whether because of the Reagan plea or not) are indeed doing more.

With the economy on the upswing, charitable and other nonprofit organizations report that Americans are donating more money and volunteering more time than ever before. When worthy groups can communicate their newly enlarged needs, in view of the federal cutbacks, private citizens seem more than willing to step up their involvement. (One public-television campaign happily reported a 30 percent increase in contributions right after the Reagan ax fell.)

Latest available figures show that in 1984, Americans gave a record $74.5 billion to charity. In addition, an estimated 92 million Americans volunteered an estimated 10 billion hours of "donated time" to causes ranging from drug rehabilitation to the Camp Fire Girls.

Did these good-hearted Americans fully make up for the government reductions? Most experts in the field doubt it. John J. Schwartz, president of the American Association of Fund-Raising Counsel, says flatly: "There is no way that the philanthropic community can make up in dollars that magnitude of federal cuts, through nonprofit organizations which have survived the federal actions of recent years have become less dependent on government support."

Some leading organizations, nonetheless, are operating entirely independent of federal support. One conspicuous example is the American Cancer Society, which expects to raise more than $270 millionthis year through the efforts of 2.3 million volunteers. In 1984 the society raised around $220 million, which itself was more than twice the total garnered 10 years earlier. …