WASHINGTON – Uncle Sam isn’t the only one who makes out around tax time.
For many charities, the small rise in donations leading up to tax day is a little island of hope in what tends to be a giving drought from after Christmas until the weather starts getting colder again.
“It’s usually for a week and a half that there is a spike,” said Heidi Verba, a spokeswoman for St. Ann’s Infant and Maternity Home in Prince George’s County. “After the Christmas season we see a lull in monetary donations, and we see an increase of used items . . . it’s spring cleaning.”
Others see the increase in donations as government-motivated.
The Internal Revenue Service said about 37.5 million taxpayers deducted nearly $140.7 billion in charitable contributions from their tax returns in 2000, the last year for which the agency said it has complete numbers. Of that, about $98.2 billion were cash donations.
Taxpayers scrambling for deductions this week already missed the deadline for their 2003 returns — that passed on Dec. 31. But the looming April 15 deadline puts some in a mind to get a head start on their 2004 returns.
“What you see up to Dec. 31 are lines of people waiting to drop off bags of donations and hand-deliver checks,” said Lafeea Watson, spokeswoman for the Salvation Army of Greater Baltimore.
“If you’re going to say Christmas is the busiest time, this is the second,” Watson said of tax time. “It’s a huge motivator.”
People think ahead, she said, and the fact that many have been told by their tax advisers to make more “charitable donations” helps at this time of year.
The Rev. Aaron M. Dowell, executive director for The Franciscan Center in Baltimore, said people in the charitable organization business learn to take the good with the bad. And despite occasional lulls, they also learn that people do not stop giving.
“We have regular monthly donors, but at peak seasons (November and December) people do tend to be more generous,” Dowell said. “If they didn’t, we’d be lost.”
Verba said local schools help keep St. Ann’s going from the holiday rush right through Easter, with drives to collect everything from canned food to diapers during Lent.
“We typically are busier this week,” Verba said.
But after this week, charities expect to see a drop in giving — until the winter holidays roll around again. That’s when people get back in the giving mood and media outlets feature those stories.
“It would be so interesting to do the story July 10,” Verba said. “In the summertime you don’t think of it (donating), and it’s pretty much across the board.”
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