When people make a contribution to a nonprofit, they also are making a contribution to the local economy.
That's a message that needs to be more broadly understood in this precarious economy, said Mason Hardy, director of the S.C. Association of Non-Profit Organizations.
"It's kind of a perfect storm," Hardy said Tuesday. "The demands on our charities are higher, but the contributions aren't keeping up with demands."
Those kinds of conditions may have contributed to a significant rise in the number of charities closing in 2009 over the previous year, according to statistics from the Secretary of State's office.
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There were 2,057 closings recorded in the fiscal year ending in September 2009, compared with 677 closings in the previous fiscal year. There are about 8,000 charitable organizations registered with the state.
But the secretary of state's office cautioned those figures cannot be directly linked to the economic downturn. Often, volunteer staffs fail to properly register their nonprofit organizations, and if the charity is not soliciting funds in the state, there is no registration requirement, the office noted.
There is no real push to track closings of nonprofit offices, Hardy said.
Still, the closing this past week of the South Carolina office of the National Epilepsy Foundation has some worried about whether there are other charitable organizations on the brink of failure.
Hardy said the S.C. Association of Non-Profit Organizations office in Columbia is fielding more calls about how to merge or close, a sign that such organizations are struggling.
Volunteers of America of the Carolinas, an affiliate of the national nonprofit that helps those in need rebuild their lives, has taken drastic steps to keep from folding, according to president Robert Rogers.
The local group, which has operated in the Midlands for more than 20 years, is closing its administrative office. Rogers will coordinate its work in the Carolinas from home.
Some of the entities that had operated under the Volunteers of America umbrella are being transferred to other nonprofits.
Children's Garden, which provides child care for the homeless, has moved from Volunteers of America to Vital Connections of the Midlands. And control of a housing project in Charleston has been turned over to the Charleston Housing Authority.
"If you look around, you'll see more and more nonprofits rethink how they do business," Rogers said.
"We have been well-supported by the people of the Midlands through the years, but they just don't have it to give now."
The recession has affected those who give to nonprofits, whether they are individuals, corporations or foundations, so it is important for nonprofit organizations to have a "diverse revenue stream," Hardy said.
He noted that 7 percent of employees in the state work for some type of nonprofit organization. Eleven percent of the gross state product is generated by nonprofits, if hospitals are factored in.
Julie Tovey, president and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Columbia, said most charitable organizations are struggling to maintain their missions with fewer resources.
"The biggest thing is that 2009 has been a very tough year," Tovey said. "And it doesn't look like 2010 is going to be a magical year either."