First Financial donated $50,000 to Middletown Community Foundation’s READY! Campaign in April 2018. Back row, from left: Dan Sack, Robie Suggs, Amy Berlean, JoAnn Wagner and Roddell McCullough; Front row, from left: Kristen Mulligan, Carole Schul, Patricia Gage, and Elaine Garver. CONTRIBUTED
Photo: Staff Writer
Photo: Staff Writer

Butler County residents are more generous to charities in strong economy. Here’s what they’re giving.

The stock market improved over the last two years, the nation added jobs and tax changes left more money in the average consumer’s pay check, leading to more disposable income for many individuals, according to executive directors.

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The Middletown Community Foundation is one area agency that has seen steady growth, said Traci Barnett, executive director. While the foundation doesn’t have audited financials for fiscal year 2018, in fiscal year 2017 the MCF had a 28 percent year-over-year increase in contributions, she said.

The MCF received $2,053,490 in donations in 2017 and $1,605,641 in 2016, Barnett said.

Assets grew approximately 14 percent during that same period. Thanks to “generous donors” who have established funds at the foundation, $2.6 million was allocated to nonprofits in 2017 and an additional $2.6 million was given in 2018, Barnett said.

About 27 percent of the foundation’s allocations are distributed to area students in the form of scholarships. The continued increase in contributions to donor funds and the creation of new funds can certainly be linked to a “strong economy,” but credit must also be given to members of the community who just want to “do good,” she said.

Mike Parks, president of the Dayton Foundation, a nonprofit that helps donors set up funds to be paid out to area charities through grants, agreed: “When you look at giving this year over last year, the reason it’s up for many people is unemployment is down, the stock market’s up, they have the money to give. And if you have the money to give, most of us want to help a neighbor, we want to help our community, we want to make it a better place for our kids and grandkids, and we’ll do that.”

Mag Baker, executive director of the Butler County United Way, said the agency received $1.8 million in donations in 2017, and should be near $1.8 million in 2018. She credited the increase on an improved economy and consumer confidence.

Last year, she said, the Butler County United Way, which serves every community except Middletown, received donations from people who hadn’t given in years. That shows that people are taking care of their families first, then donating their “extra money” to charities, she said.

“We can do a lot with $1,” Baker said.

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Badin High School has seen an increase in donations, and aside from the economy and stock market, Kelli Verdin Kurtz, executive director of Institutional Advancement, said the school is cultivating new donors and connecting with alumni.

It’s working, she said. Total giving is up over last year, and that includes all campaigns and fund drives. The fiscal year 2018 annual fund drive for operations was up 34 percent over 2017. She said $287,604 was raised in 2018 and $215,450 was generated in 2017.

So far, this year, she said, the campaign is “on par” compared to 2018.

“That’s a good sign,” she said.

Meanwhile, Tina Osso, executive director of Sharved Harvest Foodbank, which provides food assistance throughout the region, said individual donations comprise 15 to 25 percent of the organization’s $2 million budget. She said those donations dropped 5 percent from 2017 to 2018.

Osso said it’s unclear how the tax changes will impact donations. With a higher standard deduction when filing tax returns, many donors are bundling their giving, or giving two to three years worth of donations in one year to get the tax break and claiming the standard deduction in the other years.

“For some,” she said, “there may be no benefit (to giving).”

Many of the younger donors — those who were entering the workforce during the 2008 recession — still aren’t earning the wages they expected, she said. They’re five to six years behind their “earning capacity,” she said.

When people don’t have “extra” money, one of the first items they cut out of their budgets is donations, she said.

“It all starts at home,” said Osso, who noted 11 percent of Butler County’s population is living at or under poverty level. “Some people can’t afford to give.”

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