December is as important a month as any for fundraisers. It is then, at the calendar year’s end, that many donors eager to secure tax benefits write their checks to schools and churches and charities of all kinds.

But for Yale’s fundraisers, December of 2008 was a real disappointment. The University received gifts worth a total of $59 million in those 31 days, compared to $144 million in December of 2007, Vice President for Development Inge Reichenbach told the News yesterday.

While that $59 million is roughly the same amount that the University raised in December of 2006, Reichenbach acknowledged that total giving from July 1 to Dec. 31 of this fiscal year was far lower than in either of the past two years.

Indeed, six months into the current fiscal year, Yale had raised a total of $200 million. For the same time period in 2007 and 2006, the University brought in some $340 million and $300 million, respectively.

“As we know, it’s a difficult time financially,” Reichenbach said. “But what’s amazing is the speed with which things have happened.”

After all, the $84 million raised in July, August and September of 2008 put Yale well ahead of the $48 million raised in those same three months the year before. October, November and December, then, were not so kind to Yale.

But even with the slowdown in giving, the University’s capital campaign, Yale Tomorrow, is still well on its way to reaching its $3.5-billion goal. Development officials were originally seeking only $3 billion in the campaign, but the target was increased when Yale announced its intention to build two new residential colleges.

As of Dec. 31, the University had raised just under $2.5 billion for the campaign since its unofficial start in 2004, leaving another $1 billion to raise over the next two and a half years. Reichenbach was quick to point out that if Yale can continue to raise $200 million every six months, it will reach its campaign goal exactly on target. But Yale will still try to exceed that pace; even for this year, Reichenbach said her goal of $450 million remains realistic.

With Yale’s endowment down an estimated 25 percent already this year, University President Richard Levin emphasized in recent interviews that fundraising is more critical than ever before. Because of limited lending in the current economic recession, Levin said, the University cannot begin construction on several major capital projects until all pledged funds are secured from donors.

In the past, Yale could borrow money in order to begin construction on a project, and then raise those funds while buildings went up.

“We’re going to have to wait until we can either raise the money to pay for the project in full or wait until we can get access to debt markets without jeopardizing our credit rating,” Levin said. “As a consequence, the pace of construction on campus will slow.”

The expansion of Yale College is one project that now seems almost certain to slow. Reichenbach said she had already raised $157 million for the two new colleges, but $140 million of that was secured as part of a nucleus fund for the project last summer.

University officials hope the release of conceptual drawings for the new colleges will speed the rate of giving for the expansion. Robert A.M. Stern ARC ’65, the dean of the Yale School of Architecture who is designing the new colleges, is expected to present detailed plans to the Yale Corporation in February. Reichenbach said it is likely that donors will be presented with certain renderings soon after that presentation.

Visualizations have already been released for the new School of Management Campus, to be designed by Lord Norman Foster ARC ’62. Yale officials are seeking a $100-million gift for that project; the building would then be named after its donor, whom Levin said is likely to be a graduate of Yale College and not of SOM.

Yale is not the only nonprofit struggling to raise funds this fiscal year. The Council for Advancement and Support of Education released data last week predicting that 2009 would be one of only three years in the last 20 years in which overall giving will decrease.