With $8.46 million of this year's $10.6 million Catholic Charities goal turned in after weekend Masses, organizers hope that new efforts, including some on Facebook and YouTube, will overcome the poor economy.
"It's been a wonderful response once again," said Bishop Edward U. Kmiec, who greeted parish fundraising leaders Sunday afternoon as they brought money to the administrative headquarters on Delaware Avenue in Buffalo. "It's causing us to have some optimism."
The charity has been concerned because traditional donors are getting older and dying, he said. The change in demographics has led to a search for new ways to engage younger generations. This included an iPad 2 drawing from the names of people who "liked" the Catholic Charities of Buffalo Facebook page and entered a contest last month called "Get Real, Give Hope." In March, the "like" count went from 611 to about 800.
"For us, that was great," said Rose Caldwell, public relations director. "I think it's going to expand and grow."
In another Catholic Charities awareness effort, videos have been posted on YouTube and the Facebook page -- and shown at church services -- of three people talking about how funded efforts helped change their lives. The testimonials include a young couple with a newborn who needed help buying food and a Vietnam veteran whom social workers and others helped move to a new apartment after he got carbon monoxide poisoning in his old, poorly maintained residence. "The things I worried about the most are the things they took care of," Mike Evans said in the video.
While the videos and the Facebook "likes" were new this year, it's still not known whether they increased donations, Caldwell said. Eventually, the charity will analyze data from its online donation page at www.ccwny.org, she said.
The annual fundraising effort by the Catholic Diocese, which has 173 parishes in the eight counties of Western New York, began in January and continues through June. It includes a push to solicit donations in the week before Palm Sunday, with another preliminary tally Tuesday.
David Nasca, chairman of the appeal, said local giving remains generous, considering Buffalo's status as one of the poorest cities in the country. Western New Yorkers donated $10.5 million to Catholic Charities last year and another $13.3 million to the area's other large, high-profile campaign, on behalf of the United Way of Buffalo & Erie County.
"That's $24 million out of little Western New York, annually, which is pretty impressive," said Nasca, who is president and CEO of Evans Bank. He attributed fundraising strength to the community's ethnic and working class values.
In 2011, both Catholic Charities and the United Way were able to reverse multiyear slides in contributions.
The United Way wrapped up its fundraising campaign Saturday, with agency officials expecting to announce a positive outcome today.
This year's United Way campaign goal was $13.5 million -- $200,000 more than the amount raised in 2011.
The United Way has also been using social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter to connect with donors.
"It helps us in terms of marketing our message," said Michael Weiner, United Way president.
But Weiner isn't sure there's a direct correlation between the agency's increased social media presence and raising more donations.
"Scientifically, it's hard to measure," he said.
For Catholic Charities volunteer Barbara Anderson, it's clear many depend on the services the group provides. She was reminded of that when she recently stopped at a fast food restaurant while wearing her name tag.
A worker asked about programs, saying she and her child needed counseling and people had been telling her to contact Catholic Charities.
"I was kind of taken aback by that, and I said to [my husband] Bob, 'I guess we should always have our name tags on,' " said Anderson. "This is the love of our life."
News Staff Reporter Jay Tokasz contributed to this report.