The Alliance of AIDS Services-Carolina aimed to raise $100,000 Saturday at its biggest fundraiser of the year.
But organizers of the event -- the AIDS Walk & Ride in downtown Raleigh -- knew that goal could be optimistic. Three days before, fundraising totals were about 20 percent below the same point last year. They needed an influx of walkers, cyclists and cash on Saturday to make up the difference.
"The economy is definitely a challenge," said Jacquelyn Clymore, executive director of the Alliance.
That's a common refrain at nonprofits around the Triangle. The spring is prime time for fundraising, with all manner of walking, running and cycling events intended to get people out of the house and into the outdoors to support causes ranging from chronic illness to pets' welfare.
The number of such events multiplied in recent years, and, when times were flush, participants had no problem signing up for several.
Now, with unemployment climbing and household budgets tight, people are cutting optional expenses -- including charity events, which often have registration fees of $30 or more and requirements for fundraising.
"I had trouble getting people involved," said Bintu Sherif, 27, who pedaled a 30-mile cycle route for the AIDS fundraiser Saturday. Her employer, RTI International in Research Triangle Park, promoted the event to its employees, but many co-workers said they just couldn't take part this year.
Sherif also had trouble raising money. She wanted to raise $200 to support the Alliance's mission, but she managed only $50.
Those she asked for cash said, "'I don't have it,'" or "'I'm trying to save everything I have,'" Sherif said.
Normally, the drop in individual giving wouldn't be an insurmountable problem for nonprofits. Corporate support typically gives a boost to the events they put on.
Not so, this year.
"Some of my [traditional] sponsors aren't even in business," said David Cole, who organizes the Raven Rock Ramble cycling tour that takes place today through Wake, Harnett, Lee and Chatham counties. In its eighth year, the event benefits the National Kidney Foundation of North Carolina and draws 450 cyclists.
Typically, about a third of the proceeds generated by the Raven Rock Ramble come from corporate sponsors. This year, many told Cole they didn't have the cash to help. Last year, the event netted about $15,000. This year, he expects $11,500 to $12,000.
Despite the headwinds, some long-established nonprofits are meeting their goals.
The Eastern North Carolina Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society drew more than 5,000 walkers to its fundraiser last weekend, exceeding organizers' expectations. It's too soon to say whether the chapter will meet its target of raising $830,000 by May 18.
But it's about 9.5 percent closer to that goal than at the same point last year.
In April, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Wake County exceeded a goal of raising $150,000 at a dog walk event. It raised $171,000.
"We were absolutely amazed," said Mondy Lamb, marketing director for the organization. "We had planned conservatively because of the economy. And we really worked hard -- harder than we've ever worked before to get the word out to our supporters."
The organization needs all the help it can get, she added. With the recession, more people are struggling to pay for their animals. Pet owners are turning to the SPCA for help, either giving up dogs and cats for adoption or tapping programs that provide pet food.
Clymore, of the AIDS Alliance, said that's the irony of these economic times. "The demand for service is up while donations are definitely down," she said.
It'll be Monday before the money from Saturday's event is tallied and Clymore knows whether her organization met its goal. But as she walked away to tend to another detail, she added one more thing: Saturday wasn't the only day that people could contribute. The alliance will continue to accept donations in the coming weeks.