TEMPERANCE - When Bedford Heart of Hope aired its first telethon in 1999, it offered a United Way-style approach to the fund-raising campaigns that were becoming frequent in Bedford Township.
With just one yearly event, organizers hoped, enough money could be raised to set up an endowment whose proceeds could be used to offset at least a portion of the medical expenses incurred by children in the area with catastrophic illnesses.
The local business community embraced the idea not only as a way to show support, but also as a way to ease the flood of fund requests received regularly by nearly every business in the township. During its first two years of operation, Heart of Hope raised more than $105,000.
But this year's third annual Heart of Hope Telethon, planned for Nov. 3, promises to be much different. Because of the tragic events of Sept. 11 and competition from a number of other organizations seeking donations at the same time, this year's telethon will focus more on what Heart of Hope can do instead of nonstop pleas for funding, co-chairwoman Meg Smith said.
“What we decided to do this year is turn it around a little bit. We know everybody has given serious consideration to sending [contributions] to New York, and rightfully so,” Mrs. Smith explained. “So this year we're going to use it not so much to raise as much money as we can but to educate people that the fund is there.”
Bedford Heart of Hope, a nonprofit affiliate of the Monroe County Community Foundation, was established in 1999 by two Bedford Public School teachers and one school mother who wanted to help children in the area suffering from catastrophic illnesses.
Mrs. Smith said the original need hasn't abated in the three short years since the fund has been in operation.
“Kids are still going to be there and still going to be hurting. We have about $50,000 in the pass-through fund [which is used to pay the catastrophic medical expenses], and nearly that much in the endowed fund,” Mrs. Smith said. “We want to let people know that the fund is here and it's available for use.”
Heart of Hope organizers still have a goal of raising the level of the endowed fund to about $100,000, the interest from which should be enough to sustain any claims for at least a short period of time, Mrs. Smith said. To that end, the telethon still will include some requests for help, but just not as many as before.
Mrs. Smith and her fellow organizers still wonder if the telethon will be successful, even with the new format, in raising the funds necessary to allow the Heart of Hope to continue its mission.
They are not alone. Nonprofit organizations across the country are harboring similar concerns in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks.
A recent study commissioned by the American Association of Fundraising Council, based in Indianapolis, found that the total amount of giving in the United States has increased every year but one (1987) for the last 40 years. The increases happened despite wars, natural disasters, and recessions, the study found.
Indeed, philanthropic experts say this year will likely have a sharp rise in the aggregate total of money donated to one charity or another, but some charities may find it difficult to compete for donations with efforts to aid the victims of the attack.
“Local organizations are going to have to do a clearer job in presenting their needs that existed on Sept. 10. What happened didn't diminish those local needs,” said Jim Yunker, president of Smith Beers Yunker & Co., a member firm of the fund-raising council. “It's going to be incumbent on the leaders of local nonprofits to continue to share their stories and the importance of the services they provide.”
But Mr. Yunker said many in the philanthropic community believe that the attacks may have opened up a wellhead of unexpressed charity in the country as well.
“Many of us are of the mind that one of the consequences of the heightened generosity probably will increase people's attention for needs at the local level as well,” Mr. Yunker said. “It probably awakened a lot of people to say, `Hey, I can participate at the level I'm comfortable participating.' I think people dig deeper at times like these.”
On a local level, Bedford Township's philanthropic community has been swamped with requests for donations for one project or another over the last several years.
Large fund-raising drives are ongoing or planned to pay for Bedford Community Stadium, a new Bedford Branch YMCA, and for improvements to playground equipment at Carr Park. In addition, the township's business community has been a regular contributor to annual fireworks displays and recently agreed to pay for new community signs in Lambertville.
Add a faltering economy to those frequent requests for capital and Heart of Hope organizers say you get conditions where sticking out one's hand might not be the best way to go.
“It just so happens that this year there's an awful lot going on. We don't want to put any more pressure on people than we need to,” Mrs. Smith said.