CITYWIDE — ‘Tis the season for holiday giving, and nonprofit organizations in Santa Monica and across the country are hoping that the average American will be putting presents under other people’s trees, despite a tough economy.

According to the online database Guidestar.org, 936 nonprofit organizations have Santa Monica addresses, and benefit hundreds of distinct causes including education, the arts and social services.

Most need varying amounts of donations to keep their services flowing, and for many, this is the time to get them.

The two-month period before the end of the year — right around Thanksgiving and Christmas — is a big push for many nonprofits for a number of reasons, said Candy Culver, the marketing, advertising and public relations manager for donation website JustGive.org.

“It’s huge from the donor’s point of view in terms of being receptive,” Culver said. “Because of the economy, with some of the basics being so tough for people to obtain, in the last couple of years people are thankful and pause to do something about it.”

While giving the less fortunate a happy Thanksgiving and a merry Christmas is an important motivating factor, the end of the calendar year also marks the last day to get in a tax deduction for charitable giving, Culver said.

Nonprofits use both of those factors to their advantage. Some bring in up to 40 percent of their donations in the last two months of the year, said Stacy Palmer, reporter for the Chronicle on Philanthropy, a newspaper that covers the world of giving.

The appeals appear in your mailbox. Your inbox. If carrier pigeons were still a thing, they’d be at your window.

“It’s a great time of year for individuals looking to get that end of the year tax deduction,” said Tracy Mizraki, director of development at the Santa Monica-based public radio station KCRW.

Most of the station’s budget comes from its two membership drives, which take place in the summer and winter, and roughly 60 percent of KCRW’s revenues come from individuals.

The station solicits end-of-the-year contributions through direct appeal spots over the air, e-mails and by encouraging people to give memberships for the holidays.

Service provider Meals on Wheels West, which delivers meals to the disabled of all ages with a focus on the elderly, is in the middle of its own holiday donation drive.

The organization is giving placemats to donors to sign and potentially write a note to clients. All of the money raised will go directly to food costs for clients, said RoseMary Regalbuto, president of Meals on Wheels West.

“All of it does go to meal costs,” Regalbuto said. “The money we get from Malibu, Los Angeles County and Santa Monica goes to salaries and operating expenses. When we solicit, we can honestly say that money will go where it should go.”

This drive is one of many important fundraisers for the organization, which diversifies its fundraising across the year through annual events like Havana Night at the Loews Hotel, or their team that runs the L.A. Marathon.

“We take it off in little chunks, do it a bit at a time,” Regalbuto said.

And, with a budgeted deficit of $60,000 — the first in the 25 years Regalbuto’s been involved with the organization — every penny helps.

According to Giving USA, a group that compiles donation figures, Americans consistently give approximately 2 percent of their disposable income each year to philanthropic causes.

It’s a number that has remained consistent across the decades, and resulted in $290.89 billion from individuals, corporations and foundations in 2010.

The last three years of economic decline and stagnation, however, have reduced the pie. Donations are down 11 percent from a high three years ago.

If the down economy hasn’t impacted the percentage of giving, it has changed where that money goes.

Nonprofits that rely on wealthier donors that stash their cash in donor-advised funds held by professional wealth management firms have weathered the past three years relatively well, Palmer said.

Causes that rely on support from more middle class donors have suffered more.

“As people get worried about the economy, and whether or not they’re going to keep their job, they’re not as optimistic about their giving,” Palmer said.

A poll conducted by the Red Cross revealed that although people believed that giving during the holiday season was as important as ever, fewer were actually putting up cash.

That might impact direct-solicitation efforts that rely on mass-mailings and broad appeal, Palmer said, but many are still managing to keep their fundraising efforts flat from year to year.

“The challenge is that the demand for services is going up because there are so many people in need,” Palmer said. “It’s not enough to raise as much money as last year.”

ashley@www.smdp.com

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