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Fundraising improving, but gain less than hoped

Ticket and concession sales were down at the non-profit Embassy Theatre for months during the recent recession. Even as ticket sales began to rebound, concession sales stayed low.

Now concession sales are up again, and while it’s a tiny indicator of northeastern Indiana’s spending habits, the theater’s management considers it a sign of better financial days ahead.

Two-thirds of charities surveyed by a collaboration of philanthropic and fundraising organizations saw their fundraising results hold steady or increase last year, compared with 2009.

A report released last week by the Nonprofit Research Collaborative said slightly more than half the charitable organizations surveyed met their 2010 fundraising goals – a figure relatively unchanged from the previous year. The collaborating partners that conducted the survey were the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Blackbaud Inc., the Center for Philanthropy at Indiana University, the Foundation Center, GuideStar USA Inc. and the National Center for Charitable Statistics at the Urban Institute.

In some cases, 2010 goals were lower because of the bad economy. Slightly less than half the charities had higher goals, about one-third kept their goals at 2009 levels and the rest set lower goals, the survey said.

The Midwest showed a somewhat higher percentage of organizations reporting growth – 47 percent compared with 43 percent nationally – and a lower percentage with declines, according to the survey.

The increase from 2009 still wasn’t what fundraising professionals had hoped.

“While many organizations stopped the bleeding, giving simply didn’t rebound like we thought it might, especially given the economic growth we saw in the last quarter of the year,” said Paulette V. Maehara, president and CEO of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. “Despite the unexpectedly flat fundraising results that charities reported, the survey showed that success was more likely when organizations invested resources in fundraising staff and infrastructure, including volunteer management.”

That was certainly the case at Embassy Theatre, which falls into the “hold steady or increase” category, Executive Director Kelly Updike said.

Updike attributes whatever gains made not only to possible gains in the local economy but also to what fundraisers call “donor cultivation.”

For the past couple of years, the theater has employed a full-time development director. It acquired development software for tracking potential donors and recording interactions with them.

The theater brought in consultants to train its staff and board on how to attract and keep donors and then trained its volunteer base of about 300 people.

“We have seen that people and opportunities are out there,” Updike said.

Dependable donors

In addition to getting to know their donors, local organizations that said their fundraising is holding steady or increasing said they’ve been trying to help their donors get to know the charities better.

Easter Seals Arc increased its fundraising in part through a focused endowment campaign, Arc Foundation Executive Director William Andreas said. A small, committed group of donors gave more than $500,000.

And when government support was cut, Easter Seals Arc appealed to its patrons, who in turned stepped up to help bridge the gap, Andreas said.

“If you have some neat, new and exciting visions of the future, donors want to make an impact,” he said.

Kay Ostrum, executive director of American Red Cross of Northeast Indiana, said she has optimism for her organization’s fundraising development.

But that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been a difficult time.

“ ‘Holding steady’ is good, but when the need increases, you really need to grow,” Ostrum said. “We are going to focus on individual donors and educating the public.”

In the local American Red Cross’ case, that involves more outreach stressing what the organization accomplishes within potential donors’ own backyards. People donate to Red Cross when there is a major disaster, such as the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan, she said.

But they don’t always realize the local chapter does its own work, more than just the omnipresent blood drives, and must conduct its own fundraising.

It provides food and shelter to families after floods and tornadoes, and in northeast Indiana, assists families after house fires an average of every three days, Ostrum said.

Focusing on public education has been enlightening; Ostrum has encountered the misconception that the 130-year-old American Red Cross is a government agency.

Despite its success, the chapter has faced shortfalls in some areas. Foundations have taken a major hit, and because the American Red Cross is supported by some foundations, that hurt is passed on in the form of fewer and smaller grants.

And it relies heavily on the fees it takes in for providing training to businesses, such as disaster-preparedness and first aid. As the recession took its toll, many businesses cut back.

The Nonprofit Research Collaborative survey showed smaller organizations – those with expenditures below $1 million – didn’t make the same gains or even hold steady as well as larger ones.

ARCH, northeastern Indiana’s non-profit historic preservation organization, would be classified as a small organization by those terms.

Executive Director Angie Quinn said her organization suffered from the decrease in grants available last year but managed to keep sponsorships steady for the events it holds to raise money.

That came in part by recognizing many local businesses are hurting, too. Quinn said ARCH asked for smaller amounts of money for sponsorships and also tried to provide the sponsors with greater visibility by including their logos on signs and event paraphernalia.

“They feel like they get more from it,” she said.

aturner@jg.net

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