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Will donations slight others in need?

(CNN) -- Americans have opened their hearts and their wallets to victims of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, donating hundreds of millions of dollars to the American Red Cross and other organizations. But will all this attention to the events of September 11 mean Americans will have less money and less inclination to donate to other national causes?

John Graham IV, head of the American Diabetes Association, says it likely will take another two to three weeks to know for certain if there has been a long-term effect. But short-term, the falloff has been measurable.

Graham said in the first week after the attacks, "we saw about a 25 to 30 percent decrease in online donations," although mail donations were unchanged, possibly because checks were already en route. The immediate drop in donations in the days after the attacks is understandable, but more telling, explained Graham, will be "what the mail looks like three weeks from now."

Donations to charities break $500 million  

Karen Beavor, who heads the Georgia Center for Nonprofits, also feels it is too soon to know whether charitable donations will be off this year for the 9,000 organizations the group assists. Beavor believes the true test of Americans' giving spirit will come during the holiday season, when many local charities experience a surge in donations.

"Most people -- if you look at Joe on the street -- they give around the holiday time," said Beavor.

Another concern is Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines, a major corporate donor that has announced 13,000 layoffs and a reduction in its flight schedule. Beavor wonders whether the airline will have enough money left over for charity.

The Atlanta Humane Society has already felt the financial bite from the terrorist attacks. Its biggest fundraiser of the year, the 11th Annual Pet Parade, was held as planned less than two weeks after the attacks, according to the society's Dawn Eischen. The event took on a decidedly patriotic tone, with people and pets alike wearing red, white, and blue. Attendance was roughly the same as last year, but donations were down by around $30,000.

The American Heart Association held its biggest annual fundraiser, the National Heart Walk, just a few days after the attacks. The organization gave the first $250,000 raised from the Heart Walk to the 9-11 Disaster Fund, managed by the International Association of Fire Fighters.

Tony Berry with the Atlanta branch of the American Heart Association says the local chapter understands the need, adding, "Our feelings won't be hurt if people give to the American Red Cross."

The Diabetes Association typically holds some 250 fundraising walks across the country between mid-September and mid-October. CEO Graham notes there has been an increase in participation, quite possibly because people want to do something positive in the wake of the terror attacks.

The beat goes on for other fundraising groups as well, although they may take on a slightly different tone. "Our organization is moving forward with these sensitivities in mind," said Kim Sammons with the Arthritis Foundation. Sammons said the foundation is going ahead with its Joints in Motion Marathon in Dublin, Ireland, in late October. One of the runners is a woman who escaped from the World Trade Center before it collapsed.

Some believe that there could be an unexpected ripple effect from the events of September 11 -- a new era of U.S. philanthropy.

"People who have never given have done so and feel philanthropic," explained Beavor, who suspects that new donors are now experiencing "how good it feels" to help others. Graham, who's spent 30 years working for nonprofit groups, has noticed that people tend to donate more when times are tough because they recognize the need.

"Americans are extraordinarily charitable," said Graham.


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