You are cordially invited ... to stay home.
That’s the message when an UnParty invitation arrives from Galvin Education Resource Center in Beachwood with a tea bag to be used for a cozy night in. And it’s exactly the kind of fundraiser Shari Goldberg, president and founder of the Cleveland chapter of Autism Speaks, and her husband, Michael, have been waiting for.
Like many, the couple receives invitations to more galas than they can attend each month, so the UnParty invite asked recipients to donate the amount that they would have otherwise spent on a babysitter and new outfits.
“Michael and I loved the idea because we got a chance to stay home and support a worthy cause,” Goldberg says. “You know that your money is going entirely to that cause rather than the details of what goes into a party.”
The Galvin Center’s 2006 UnParty raised $7,000, and plans are in the works for a second nonevent in 2009.
But exactly what those donations might look like in the next year worries many nonprofits. Wall Street has fallen into crater-sized potholes with the Dow dipping below 8,000; the government approved a $700 billion financial bailout plan that did little to calm economic fears; and National City, with 7,800 employees in Northeast Ohio, was bought by PNC Bank. This news can’t be very comforting to local charities.
“The percentage of fundraisers reporting a negative impact of the economy on giving has grown significantly,” says Patrick M. Rooney, interim executive director at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University. “Just over 83 percent of fundraisers reflect that view now, as opposed to 48 percent six months ago. For some corporations and donors with lower or fixed incomes, philanthropy may be seen as a kind of luxury good.”
But coffers might not really dry up in this economic drought. Total charitable giving has increased every year but one since 1967 (through 2007, the most recent data), according to Giving USA. And even when times are bad, they’re not so bad. During the past 40 years, with adjustments for inflation, individual giving only dropped an average of 1.5 percent during recession years and 3.9 percent during years with eight months or more of recession.
So as belt-tightening becomes the new black, charities need to be fashion-forward with a clear and focused approach to contributions and budgets and some creative concepts such as nonevents, tiered ticket prices and pajama sleepovers.
Shari Goldberg is a former teacher with a mane of dark blond ringlets, infectious energy and two sons, Jackson, 13, and Noah, 11. At 18 months, Noah was diagnosed with autism.
“I was pretty scared,” she says. “You hear ‘autism,’ and you don’t know what that means, what the impact on your family will be.”
Goldberg’s autism specialist suggested putting Noah on a strict wheat- and dairy-free diet. It took a lot of research and effort, but Goldberg estimates that the diet helped improve Noah’s behavior by 10 percent. “I learned it all for my child and then wanted to share the little tips, best cookbooks, etc. with other parents,” she says.
It also earned her an almost celebritylike status among parents of children with autism. “I became the go-to mom for parents who were thinking about starting their child on gluten-free, casein-free,” she says. “This diet can be overwhelming, stressful and unfathomable to get started. I would meet parents at local grocery stores to help them figure [it] out.” She also got phone calls and emails from across the country. Kristen and Steven Stills, of Crosby, Stills and Nash fame, have a 12-year-old son, Henry, who has autism.
Kristen Stills called Goldberg for guidance on fitting their son’s diet into their gourmet lifestyle. The Goldbergs and the Stillses developed a close friendship, and Goldberg attended a star-studded Los Angeles Autism Speaks gala in 2005.On that trip, Goldberg met native Clevelander Patricia Heaton, an Autism Speaks supporter, who urged Goldberg to bring to Ohio what she witnessed in the L.A. autism community. By 2006, Goldberg had created the first Ohio chapter of Autism Speaks.
Last spring, the organization’s Rock ’til It Stops fundraiser at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum offered two tiers: a sit-down dinner for $500 or an appetizer/dessert buffet beginning 90 minutes later for $150.
“In this economy, we want to raise awareness and raise money,” she says. “Not everybody is willing to spend $150 or $500 a plate for dinner; not everybody has the time, the energy, the babysitter.”
Of the 900 attendees, about 300 chose the sit-down dinner option, and everyone came together later in the evening to enjoy a performance by Stephen Stills. “We want to include rather than exclude,” says Goldberg.
For its summer fundraiser, Autism Speaks held a Sunday afternoon art benefit, dubbed Artism, in a backyard garden. Twenty-five local artists created a chic and funky outdoor gallery to display their pieces, with each artist donating 15 percent of sales to Autism Speaks.
Goldberg’s friend, interior designer Don Schmitt, donated his Cleveland Heights backyard for the event — complete with pool and gardens. Paintings hung from trees, funky pottery and dramatic photographs adorned fences, objects d’art nestled on couches around the pool. Goldberg drafted friends to bake and persuaded local performers to donate their time while kids passed baked goods and sold raffle tickets.
“The amount it cost to put it on was nominal,” Goldberg says. This first-time event drew 250 attendees and raised $3,000. Admission was a canned good, which Autism Speaks donated to a local food bank. “We wanted to give back,” Goldberg says, and give back they did. Cleveland Food Bank was thrilled to collect 900 pounds of nonperishables.
The current state of the economy also led Cleveland-based Flashes of Hope to get creative with its Big Shots and Little Stars fundraiser.
Founded by Kip and Allison Clarke, whose son, Quinn, is a pediatric cancer patient, Flashes of Hope captures the spirit and beauty of children battling cancer through professional photography. The organization’s annual fundraiser is a casual, after-work cocktail party at Eton Chagrin Boulevard and usually features drinks, hors d’oeuvres, entertainment and a live auction. But at this year’s event, held in November, the auction was replaced by a less expensive, more interactive game show based onDeal or
“We did not feel there were going to be a lot of large-dollar donors out there,” says Kristine DiFiore, director of National Operations for Flashes of Hope. “So we came up with the idea of doingDeal or No Deal, which we think will be fun. People can enter this game for $100 and have the opportunity to win prizes.”
Belt-tightening can actually have a positive impact in how people approach charitable giving. Faced with limited donation dollars, donors are choosing to give time rather than money. “We look for volunteers to go out into the classrooms to present our economic-based programs, and we also look for monetary donations to provide those programs,” says Stephanie Mueller, special events manager for Junior Achievement. “We’re still getting the monetary donations in, but we’re seeing an increase in volunteers.”
That fact can be linked to Junior Achievement’s inventive fundraising. Last winter, JA asked guests to throw on a pair of comfy PJs for a party at the Marriott Downtown at Key Center.The event, which cost $150 per couple, has become a JA tradition. “We had a good response and raised $8,000 from it,” Mueller says. “[The pajama theme] was a creative hook for the event; it’s something different that hadn’t been done before by anyone else.”
Junior Achievement has also had success with an annual online auction, where shoppers bid on items ranging from sporting event tickets and restaurant gift certificates to experiences such as a pregame field visit at Indians batting practice or a week’s stay at an exotic resort in San Juan. The auction raised close to $40,000 last year.
But all the creative events and auctions won’t mean much unless organizations continue to talk to people about their programs and goals, make a clear case for support and show vision for the long term, suggests Giving USA.
“Those [nonprofits] that feel they have a core of donors who are passionate about their organization’s mission are tending to be less concerned and more confident of their ability to successfully raise contributions,” confirms Susan Eagan, executive director of The Mandel Center for Nonprofit Organizations at Case Western Reserve University, which advises local nonprofit organizations on effective fundraising strategies.
“I get dozens of these invitations,” says Shari Goldberg. “I really do have to decide which of them touch my heart, which are the ones that I love.” nFund,With the economy sagging, nonprofits need to get their message out — and be more creative in their fundraising efforts — to keep the contributions coming in.by Joan Elovitz KazanExtremely Gifted
For two local organizations, 2008 was a very good year.
Hathaway Brown received its largest gift ever, in spite of the faltering economy, and University Hospitals received generous funds for a new facility.
“The greater Cleveland area has an exceptional nonprofit community for a region of our size,” says Susan Eagan, executive director of the Mandel Center for Nonprofit Organizations at Case Western Reserve University. “There is a very strong philanthropic tradition here.” -JEK
How much: $22.6 million
Donor: The Harrington and McLaughlin families, to establish the Harrington-McLaughlin Heart and Vascular Institute and to develop new ways to ensure early diagnosis and treatment of heart disease
Inspiration: “The passion for helping others through health care doesn’t change in the economic climate we’re in,” says Sherri Bishop, senior vice president of institutional relations and development. “Those feeling inspired to help advance the medical mission will search for ways to fulfill that.”
How much: $7 million
Donor: The estate of 1936 HB graduate Jean Sharer Brown
Inspiration: “Jean Sharer Brown understood how powerful Hathaway Brown can be in the lives of today’s girls and women,” says Bill Christ, Hathaway Brown head of school. “It wasn’t just about her own experiences; she knew that the school was really a call to action. HB-educated women are going to be the kind of people who are going to enable us to cope successfully with the challenges of our complicated times.”