This is one of a series of stories in the Daily News' 8-day Special Report: "In Recovery?" looking at whether the economy is rebounding in Southwest Florida.
NAPLES — As the local economy continues its comeback, charities have started to benefit, with more wallets opening back up to support them.
That usually comes farther down the road in an economic recovery, signaling a stronger belief that it will go on, with no major detours ahead.
"From Opera Naples, to Youth Haven, to the winter wine festival, they have all seen improvements in the last three years," said Tom Moran, a nationally recognized, top-ranked financial adviser for Wells Fargo in Naples.
This year, the Naples Winter Wine Festival auction raised $12.2 million for children's charities in Collier County. That was up from $12 million in 2011, $8 million in 2010 and about $5 million in 2009, when the economy was still deep into a recession.
"2009 was still pretty depressed. People were still in shock," Moran said.
When the economy slumps, charitable giving is "one of the first things to get hurt," said Russ Weyer, a senior associate in Naples for Fishkind & Associates Inc., an Orlando-based economic and financial consultant.
"It's not a staple in our life," he said. "It's not food. It's not shelter."
When giving returns, it's a good sign the economy is getting back on track, he said.
The United Way of Collier County exceeded its 2011-12 campaign goal by 13 percent, raising more than $2.3 million. Steven Sanderson, the president and CEO, gives the credit to the campaign leadership — and a better economy.
"When people are feeling better about their finances and their personal situation, they do tend to feel more comfortable about releasing some of their discretionary funds and what better way to do that than to invest in the community to help other people who may have had some challenging times over the years," he said.
He gets the sense most people think the worst is behind.
The United Way funds more than 30 agencies that offer programs and services in the community. The goal hasn't been set for the next fundraising campaign, but it has never gone down from one year to the next, said Mollie Page, a spokeswoman for the agency.
The head of the Community Foundation of Collier County, which manages money for charitable givers and awards grants to area nonprofits based on earnings from those funds, said she's noticed an "increase in people's giving over the last year."
"There are many needs out there in the community," said Colleen Murphy, the foundation's president and CEO. "Our nonprofits really are providing, many of them, a safety net to our citizens in Collier County, who have fallen on tougher times because of the downturn in the economy over the last few years. The needs are greater and the need for resources is greater."
This is the first part of an 8-day Daily News series, "In Recovery?" about whether Southwest Florida's economy is rebounding. Tomorrow: Real estate.