Centre Gives: Several nonprofits scramble for funding as charity tightens coffers

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At a time when the Bellefonte FaithCentre opened a new food bank and construction costs came in over budget, it was not a good moment to develop another $10,000 budget hole.

But that’s what the nonprofit is facing.

The Centre Foundation recently decided that the Bellefonte FaithCentre, Bridge of Hope Centre County and Allegheny Lutheran Social Ministries would not be eligible to participate in the annual Centre Gives charity fundraising drive, which comes with a $100,000 match from the foundation. The organizations had participated the previous two years, but after reviewing the applications, Centre Foundation staff realized they should have been exempt.

Centre Gives has a strict policy against participation from religion-based organizations, because there is no way to track how the money is spent, Centre Foundation Executive Director Molly Kunkel said. Though many of the organizations provide services to anyone — regardless of religious affiliation — there is no way to guarantee the money is going to those services and not sectarian purposes.

“If ministry is part of your mission, we don’t have any way of tracking that’s not how you’re using the money,” she said.

FaithCentre Executive Director Nicole Summers said she understands and accepts the decision, but that she needs to fill her budget gap.

Because the nonprofit was able to participate the past two years, Summers included the money that is typically generated from the fundraiser in her budget projections. She said that $10,000 goes toward its mission of serving food to more than 800 clients who are in need each month.

“I understand Centre Gives’ reasoning. I don’t hold anything against them,” she said. “I’m just trying to fix my budget.”

Summers said she doesn’t necessarily view the FaithCentre as a religion-based organization.

She readily agrees that the mission statement includes faith-based language, but there is no religious requirements for anyone to use the services, Summers said.

The decision left some executives questioning the timing, but Kunkel chalked it up to an oversight in past years.

Centre Gives, which is in its third year, took the Centre County charity fundraising landscape by storm, posting two huge years and generating a buzz in the area.

In its first year, the 36-hour online giving event raised about $415,000 through 74 participating organizations, and that number jumped to about $550,000 and 82 organizations last year. This year, 96 organizations, including 19 new ones, will be included.

The event is slated from midnight Tuesday through noon Wednesday.

Kunkel said that increasing numbers of faith-based organizations began applying to take part, and after reviewing all the previous applications, the team decided that the three excluded organizations really should have never been allowed to participate if the rules were strictly followed. She said she wanted to level the playing field to keep everything fair and by the rules.

Though the groups won’t be allowed to participate in the campaign, Kunkel said the Centre Foundation does provide ample opportunity to donate money to various religious-based organizations. In total, the Centre Foundation granted more than $165,000 to 28 faith-based organizations in 2013, she said.

She hopes the future of Centre Gives holds increasing success and continued expansion to make the event even bigger.

At Bridge of Hope Centre County, less funding means fewer people that the organization can help, said board member Kelly Swisher, who serves as the communication and development chairwoman.

The organization helps homeless single mothers with rental assistance and finding housing. The program is helping four mothers, but the representatives would have liked to assist nine with more funding.

“We only serve as much as we can afford to serve,” Swisher said.

She acknowledged that the lack of a funding source could hurt the program, but she said she understands the Centre Foundation’s reasoning and rules.

Summers will be trying to make up portions of the budget gap with increased efforts toward fundraising. She was able to secure a $3,000 matching gift from an anonymous donor and a $500 matching gift from Faith United Methodist Church in Bellefonte.

If the FaithCentre is able to raise $3,500, it will mean $7,000 for the organization.

“Because we lost this fundraiser, we’re in need of help,” she said.