Pittsburgh nonprofits hope Giving Tuesday will inspire generosity for essential programs

The staff of the Parent Place Community Resource Center in Crafton Heights is low on supplies for families because they just had a huge distribution last week for Thanksgiving. (Lucy Schaly/Post Gazette)

Article by Jordan Anderson

After shoppers spent a record $9.8 billion in online sales for Black Friday, the annual “Giving Tuesday” fundraising event is here to inspire a spirit of generosity as the holiday season kicks off.

Across Western Pennsylvania, nonprofits are hoping to receive donations that would help families with food, kids’ programming, housing and more. The Boys & Girls Clubs of Western Pennsylvania is one of them.

This year is a special one for the group, marking 135 years of service in the Pittsburgh community. The contributions will mainly go toward scholarships to help students participate in their summer camps, teen mentoring, workforce development, sports and other activities. A donation of $50 could help with equipment or supplies, or as much as $200 can sponsor a child’s participation in a program, said David Tobiczyk, vice president of advancement. 

“This time of year is important to us, every dollar we raise,” Mr. Tobiczyk said. “For 135 years, we've worked to advance potential youth and teens throughout Pittsburgh, and we now serve over 5,000 youth and families. We want people to know that this really will increase the flexibility of Boys and Girls Clubs to help kids.”

Pittsburgh nonprofits tackle food insecurity as USDA report confirms growing crisis

Each year, on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, millions of charities take part in a global day of giving. Last year, contributions in the U.S. totaled an estimated $3.3 billion within 24 hours

While marking an increase since the year prior, nonprofits have grappled with slimming financial support. The National Council of Nonprofits said in an August report that seven out of 10 nonprofits anticipate charitable giving to decrease or remain flat in 2023, and about 68% of nonprofits anticipate the number of donors to decrease or remain unchanged.

In line with this trend, a Giving USA report found that less than half of Americans gave to charity last year. This marks only the fourth time that donations have fallen since Giving USA started tracking in 1956.

Anne Gingerich, executive director of Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations, says one reason is that people have less disposable income, and that’s been a trend long before the pandemic. 

“Charitable giving has declined just in general, and that's before you take in the increased cost of inflation,” she said. “We have seen a decline in giving overall within the nonprofit community. We're looking at a little over 20 years, which is wild to me, 67% of Americans gave in 2002 and it is down to only 50% of Americans giving.”

It’s the small nonprofits that take the hit, especially in Pennsylvania, where 88% of nonprofits have budgets of under $500,000, and about 90% have budgets of under a million. 

“Fewer people are giving less money, which makes a real big difference on the real small nonprofits in Pennsylvania,” she said. “Most are really small and if you have a big donor, like a MacKenzie Scott, for example, while some nonprofits get some of that money, the rural little guys tend to not receive those larger grants.” 

But nonetheless, the people of Pittsburgh are still digging in their pockets to show their support for local causes. The #ONEDAY Critical Needs online giving campaign in August raised a record $1.77 million across 171 nonprofits in Allegheny and Westmoreland counties.

“All that to say is, we really encourage people to get what they can even if it's a small amount because every little bit counts,” Ms. Gingerich said. 

That support may mean more to families than ever. Pittsburgh’s overall poverty rate hovers at around 19%, which exceeds the national poverty rate of 12.6%, Bobbi Watt Geer, president and CEO of United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania, said.

Their largest indicator of what families are facing is their 24/7 human services referral call center, PA 211. Before the pandemic, the organization saw about 190,000 contacts. By the end of 2022, it reached over 523,000. 

“It more than doubled in the three years of the pandemic,” Ms. Geer said. “That’s why events like the Giving Tuesday are so important, to highlight human service needs in the community because they are certainly persisting. Needs around affordable housing, access to good jobs, family-sustaining jobs, certainly food insecurity and utility assistance are what we're hearing again and again.”

For Achieva, a Pittsburgh nonprofit that offers services for people with disabilities, donations can be the sole funder for programs. That includes their family advocacy program, which helps people navigate through often overwhelming educational, medical, government and adult service systems, Vice President of Advancement Dave Tinker said. 

“Many of our advocates on staff, they've experienced it firsthand themselves through parents, siblings, family members,” he said. “Having a helping hand can be really beneficial. Those programs are really impacted because they've received support from nowhere else. It's just donations.”

At the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, where admission and membership fees cover only 60% of the costs required to serve more that 306,000 children and adults each year, Giving Tuesday makes a difference. 

Max Pipman, senior director of communication, said the museum saw $20,000 in donations in 2022 and are looking to meet, if not exceed, that number this year.

“It's so important to get unrestricted dollars that come in from donors," Mr. Pipman said. "We're able to spread joy, kindness, creativity, curiosity, for learners of all ages through our day to day activities, our after school program, our camps, our workshops and more. It's an amazing way to contribute directly to the museum, so we can pass our programming forward to help kids and families.”

Stephen Hart, vice president of development and technology for the Habitat for Humanity of Greater Pittsburgh, said his organization has set a fundraising goal of $7,500. Donations can pay for the little expenses that add up, such as nails, or a new door for someone’s home. 

The contributions will be especially impactful for their homeownership program as they build homes in Larimer and Penn Hills over the next year. 

“It's more of a season of giving,” he said. “A reminder for us to include the nonprofits that we're passionate about and are making an impact locally. Our vision is a world where everyone has a decent place to call home. This time of year really resonates with that.”

As for Sister Mary Ellen Barbour Williams, she is gearing up for her annual toy drive, and it’s going to take community support to make it happen. She has served the Pittsburgh community through nonprofit Save A Life Today since 2004, and recently opened up a new parent resource center in Crafton Heights, The Parent Place, this summer. The annual holiday event is one of her most anticipated of the year. 

Ms. Williams expects to serve over 1,500 children on Dec. 15 at the PPG Paints Arena. Pre-registered parents receive their items in a discreet black bag so they can provide the gifts themselves on Christmas just like everyone else. 

Donations can go through CashApp at $Elliebarbour235, or Ms. Williams encourages people to visit their 1505 Stratmore St. center in person. 

“Trying to get 1,500 toys together for these kids – it's an undertaking to say the least,” she said. “The main thing is our economy right now, just being a blessing to these parents and giving them resources without taking away their pride and dignity. It's very important to us.”

First Published November 28, 2023, 5:30 a.m.

Article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette