How year of tragedy affected 2019 Dayton-area donations

The Dayton region dug deep to give generously this year, as tornadoes, a mass shooting, and a water outage increased the philanthropic need in the area.

As Thanksgiving nears and many nonprofits start year-end appeals for donations, many nonprofit leaders told the Dayton Daily News their fundraising efforts have been affected by the significant tragedies that the Dayton region experienced this year and the increased need that those tragedies created.

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Stephanie Llacuna, president of the Association of Fundraising Professionals Greater Dayton Region Chapter, said organizations that provide direct services to disaster victims had to kick into high gear earlier this year.

Fundraising staffs not only had to shift to emergency fundraising outside of day-to-day fundraising, but in some cases were also needed to provide direct services like distributing food and clothing, or interacting with the media, Llacuna said.

“Many organizations who were not directly involved with disaster relief were torn about whether they should hold back on their day-to-day fundraising out of respect for donors who may have dug deeper than usual to provide support to tornado and shooting victims,” Llacuna said. “I heard from some of my fundraising peers that they weren’t really sure how to navigate this because while they want to be considerate of donors and other organizations, the need in their organizations remained great.”

Change in plans

Prior to the disasters, Llacuna, also philanthropy officer with Dayton Children’s Hospital, said she had been in a conversation with a foundation about applying for funding in the fall for one of their programs. However, the foundation administrator shared with her some stories of the immediate need that some of the smaller organizations had as a result of the tornadoes and shooting.

“She asked if our program could wait for funding until the next deadline in March so that they could focus their dollars on emergency needs. Of course, we encouraged them to focus on the immediate needs of our community and we will now apply in the spring,” Llacuna said.

She said another big change she heard of is from a local company that typically awards three large grants per year to three organizations but now plans to reserve a third of their distributions to be saved for future disaster relief.

There have been some decreases in workplace campaigns for the United Way of Greater Dayton, but overall the organization is still getting a good response this year, said Antoinette Hampton, vice president resource development for United Way of Greater Dayton.

“I’m pretty optimistic because I know how philanthropic and supportive our community is. Even through all of this, we’ve all come together and pitched in and all helped one another,” Hampton said.

Hampton said her team has found that some of the people are asking to give toward tornado relief.

“But then after we remind them how a large number of people affected by the tornado are also individuals we were already servicing, then it seems to have made a huge difference in making them want to give even more. Those issues those individuals had prior to the tornado didn’t go away just because the tornado hit,” Hampton said.

Still thriving

Several organizations fundraising for causes outside of the tornadoes said they still received strong support from the community.

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Beth Redden, Five Rivers MetroParks Foundation chief of philanthropy, said they are getting close to their $490,000 fundraising goal toward renovating a kitchen at Adventure Central, which will be used to help Dayton students learn about healthy eating and cooking.

“I’ve been in fundraising for 28 years and what I have seen in this community is it’s an extremely generous community and when there’s greater need it seems that Daytonians dig deeper into their pockets, rather than reducing their ongoing giving,” Redden said.

The Dayton Foundation had a busy year, managing not only its typical funds, but also managed both the donation funds in the wake of the Memorial Day tornadoes and the Oregon District mass shooting. The tragedies drew an outpouring of support, from large corporate checks to lemonade stand proceeds. One donation came from as far away as Japan.

“For the Dayton Foundation we definitely saw a huge change in the number of gifts that we received and the dollar amount of the gifts we received,” said Michelle Lovely, Dayton Foundation’s vice president of development and donor relations.

The Dayton Foundation also still helps donors navigate the new tax law this time of year, particularly through helping donors with setting up IRA qualified charitable distributions or with free charitable checking accounts.

“Those two types of funds have been really, really popular,” Lovely said.

Foodbank responds

The Dayton Foodbank was among key groups that responded to the urgent need following the water outage and then after the tornadoes. Lee Alder Truesdale, chief development officer, said while hunger is an urgent need on an ongoing basis, the need from the May tornadoes gave the community something to really rally behind and they raised $300,000 in June.

“We talk a lot at the food bank about making philanthropy easy and approachable. Every dollar here will provide six meals for a family in need. I think when the tornadoes hit, a lot of people saw ‘I can give $25 and really make a difference,’” Truesdale said.

Melodie Bennett, House of Bread executive director, said the Dayton free kitchen raises the majority of their cash donations between Thanksgiving and New Years Day, so it’s too early to say whether those donations will be impacted this year.

The nonprofit’s board didn’t hold an annual October fundraiser partly because of the increased need.

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“Our board made the decision not to have that this year partially because of all the needs in the community,” Bennett said.

Observationally, Bennett said the staff have also noticed a definite increase in people requesting help with things like paying rent, or utilities, who are maybe one step from homelessness. As a community kitchen, Bennett said they refer these guests to other organizations, but are still concerned by the increase in people with urgent needs following the tornado.

“For us, that’s pretty alarming,” she said.

Jane Keiffer, executive director for Dayton-based Artemis Center, a domestic violence resource agency, said donations are important, but there are also other ways for people to support local nonprofits besides money, such as volunteering or sharing information to raise awareness.

“People being great ambassadors in the community can be just as important,” Keiffer said.

How to give

In its 36th year, the Valley Food Relief Campaign, a partnership between the Dayton Daily News and The Foodbank, serves more than 100 nonprofit agencies operating feeding programs in Montgomery, Greene and Preble counties.

To donate to the Valley Food Relief Campaign, visit or send a check to Valley Food Relief, 56 Armor Place, Dayton, OH 45417. Donations are tax deductible.

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