As Americans have donated nearly $1 billion to September 11-related relief efforts, local charities nationwide have reported a negative side effectdeclining donations and dwindling resources.

Major Christian relief and child sponsorship agencies are also concerned about what effects the terrorist attacks will have on fundraising.

"I think this is a question we are all waiting with bated breath to see answered," said International Aid's President/CEO Myles D. Fish. "Everything changed September 11, but we can't really see the long-term effects yet."

An unclear picture

While many organizations said it was too early for clear projections, many are afraid that September donations will be down for ongoing operations.

The Salvation Army collected over $35 million for New York, according to Lt. Col. Tom Jones, national community relations and development secretary. He said there are fears that those donations could replace what donors would normally contribute. "Some people only have so much money to give to organizations like the Army," Jones said.

He said that it might be difficult to see how Army funds are affected since donations are collected and used locally. This could also mean effects will not be universal. "We may not be affected at all in Saginaw, Michigan, but greatly affected down the road in Grand Rapids," Jones said.

World Relief's senior vice president of marketing Dale Hanson Bourke, said other factors make it more difficult to evaluate September's giving. A lagging economy had already worried World Relief before the attacks.

"We are facing a tough time," said Bourke. "The notion that this could divert people's attention even more is a little scary."

Food for the Hungry's public information coordinator Bard Letsinger said FFH is also concerned by the effect of the lagging economy.

"As the economy goes down, giving does too," he said. "Before September 11, we had already seen a drop in giving. People have a core group they donate to, with their church being first. To some, we can be dropped when the economy falters."

He said the agency is also concerned that international tensions developing after September 11 may leave Americans unwilling to donate to those in need. But on one front, he's hopeful:

"Our fears were that Afghans needing aid would not get it [because American donors] would associate them with the Taliban and bin Laden and not contribute," said Letsinger. "But President Bush and his administration have done a good job separating the two for Americans."

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The elephant in the living room

International Aid's Fish said Christian relief organizations now have to focus on how to turn donors' attention from a tragedy at home to needs abroad.

Letsinger said the strategy for FFH is to simply hold the course. "We haven't changed our appeals or how we are approaching donors," he said. "We just state the facts and depend on the goodness of donors."

World Relief has taken a direct approach of reminding donors about international needs. However, Bourke said fundraising agencies must tap into the current concerns.

Soon after the attacks, the organization sent out a mailing asking donors to "stop terrorism" by donating aid to "places where despair and hopelessness are the norm." The letter, written by President Clive Calver, said that World Relief is an "anti-terrorism group" that plants love instead of hatred in Sudan, Kosovo, and Malawi.

"We hope it wasn't an inappropriate direction, but we wanted to move people to the bigger scope of what is happening," Bourke said. "If you don't address [September 11] right now, you will have a problem. That's what people are thinking. It is the elephant in the living room."

Compassion International asked its celebrity endorsers, like Michael W. Smith and Rebecca St. James, not to draw any correlation between sponsoring children and September 11. No appeals went out for two weeks after the attacks, and radio spots were held off for fears that listeners would find them inappropriate.

But Rick Mitchell, director of marketing and development, said the child-development organization has seen increases in sponsorships since the attacks. September also saw fewer cancellations than budgeted. "Maybe people are just thinking more deeply about helping now," Mitchell said.

Likewise, World Vision pulled some September television spots and became "very aware of grief and shock," according to Sheryl Watkins, spokesperson. She said that when preparing an appeal or spot, World Vision considers what the average American would feel about it.

Food for the Poor wrote to donors about "what would happen if our flow of support continues to be interrupted."

Angel Aloma, executive vice president, said the letter's purpose was to "remind people that what happened here was horrible, but lives of those around the world are horrible as well."

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Broadening the base

With the visible work of relief organizations now, new opportunities for fundraising may arise. The Salvation Army's Jones said the work being done by aid groups might widen the donor base for Christian agencies. "In the past, we have seen that when people can see what we are doing in times like this, they understand what we do and may donate a little more," Jones said.

"Since this was such a visible tragedy, I think people contributing to September 11 haven't donated to our organizations before," International Aid's Fish said. "But the hope is that after a good experience with donating, they will again."

Todd Hertz is assistant online editor for Christianity Today.

Related Elsewhere:

Recent Opinion Roundup columns have focused on the effect of September 11 on prophetic interpretation and religious freedom.

Yahoo full coverage has a collection of emergency and relief information in wake of the terrorist attack on U.S.

For more Christian perspectives and responses to September 11, see various articles posted on,, and

Previous Christianity Today articles on Ground Zero relief work after the attacks include:

Where I Minister, Grace Abounds Over Sin | At Ground Zero, a New York pastor becomes a symbol that God is present and available. (Sept. 24, 2001)

Orthodox Church Near Ground Zero Hopes to Rise Again | Members hope to rebuild 169-year-old structure, which stood only 500 feet from the World Trade Center. (Sept. 18, 2001)

Churches Meet Needs at Ground Zero | Brooklyn pastors and parishioners thank God for survival, but help victims and families cope. (Sept. 17, 2001)

Communication Troubles Challenge U.S. Church Relief Agencies | Aid work continues amid atmosphere of shock, fear, and sporatic harrassment. (Sept. 13, 2001)

In the Belly of the Beast | Christians, calling terrorist attack "satanically brilliant," minister at epicenter of World Trade disaster. (Sept. 12, 2001)

Churches, Agencies Respond to Attacks | Leaders call for prayer, justice, and mercy. (Sept. 12, 2001)