It’s the peak of the charitable giving season in Vero Beach, and while the 2010 social calendars are jammed-packed with more events, many who worry about the needs of the needy are feeling the squeeze.
Philanthropists are giving less, and being choosier about where they’ll give. Charities’ portfolios are only starting to rebound, and governments are giving less in the form of community grants.
Nonprofits are having to compete for fewer available donors and dollars, making them more creative in their fundraising and more competitive to get the ear of those giving.
“I have heard anecdotal comments from a couple of donors who perceive an increase in the number of solicitations from local nonprofits,” said Kerry Bartlett, Executive Director of the Indian River Community Foundation. “My response has been that it is probably related to the need for additional charitable dollars in order to address the increased need for services.”
Bartlett sits in a unique position to take the pulse of what’s going on philanthropically in Vero Beach. She works with both donors and nonprofits to help bring willing donors and worthy agencies together and to facilitate gifts that match the core values and objectives of local donors.
With the county cutting the money it gives to local agencies by almost half, and donors giving less, Bartlett says this season is one of priorities and of giving to organizations that can show direct results of donor dollars.
So some charities have had to become creative, expanding existing events, adding auctions, seeking new ways to entice donors to pick them. Some, like the Quail Valley Charities, opened events up to the community, not just its membership.
Others hosted multiple events across the January to April season, in order to maximize opportunities to raise money.
And that’s just made it harder for people to find time to attend benefits for everything from animal shelters to the Riverside Theatre to the homeless, and the various medical-related charities.
When budget cutbacks come, they usually go hand in hand with increased demand for services. Dollars for Scholars of Indian River County began awarding need-based college scholarships to local students in 1965. When the economy takes a nosedive and unemployment rates soar, the Scholarship Awards Committee sees increased numbers of families needing financial assistance to send their kids to college.
Applications for the $1,000 to $5,000 a year scholarships were due a few weeks ago and, after a first pass at determination of need, it appears that about 12 percent more students and their families -- 134 up from 120 last year -- are scheduled to be interviewed, according to Scholarship Awards Chair and Sandpointe resident Gaye McIntosh Ludwig.
In 2009, it awarded $392,000 to 72 high school graduates from all five high schools and also to returning college students, mostly in Florida.
“Lots of parents are unemployed or on reduced work schedules,” said Dollars for Scholars Executive Director Camilla Wainright. “I can’t tell you how many letters I’ve read where one or both parents is unemployed and have been for over a year. We’ll uncover more of those needs as we go through the actual interviews.”
Dollars for Scholars resembles a great number of established, local charities as it relies on a combination of current-year funding and income from investments to meet expenses and provide direct support to its clients.
When it comes to those funds, the last 18 months has been a nerve-wracking waiting game -- waiting for fund balances to return to pre-recession levels and stay there.
Central Beach resident Mark Ashdown, First Vice President of Ashdown Hogan and Associates at Merrill Lynch on Beachland Boulevard, has served on a number of nonprofit boards and committees in his 33 years in Vero Beach. He says long-term investments are just hitting equilibrium.
“The good news is that since last March, the market has been up and it’s been up a full year. Yes, the endowments are back up, but they’re not screaming,” he said. “Many organizations are just back to where they were in 2008, but they can’t take as much out because they need to be conservative. And, I believe that the annual appeals, the current-year cash contributions are down.”
Ashdown said most nonprofits took about a 20 percent hit in their endowments when the market dropped 30 to 40 percent, but that because of the blended nature of the investments, they’ve only risen about that same 20 percent over the past 12 months.
“They’ve grown their endowments only due to internal growth, through new money coming in,” he said. Over the years, Ashdown has advised many clients to include charitable giving in their financial plans and the generosity he’s seen -- especially among barrier island residents -- is a testament to donors’ care and concern about the community as a whole.
“The positive spin is that Vero Beach or Indian River County is a very positive area for charities, it’s a very philanthropic area. You have to give credit where it is due,” he said.
To make up the difference while invested funds recover, Wainright and her board members vie for grant funding from local community and family foundations such as Impact 100, the John’s Island Community Service League and Quail Valley Charities.
The Quail Valley Charity Cup started in 2002 to raise money to fund local charities focused on issues related to children. Over the past eight years, Quail Valley Charities has awarded $1.8 million to dozens of different organizations, making a huge impact on the services those groups can provide to Indian River County’s youth.
This year alone, the Charity Cup committee maintained its prior year earnings to award $250,000 to 23 nonprofit programs at its check presentation ceremony last week.
“We were very fortunate,” said Quail Valley Charities Executive Director Martha Redner. “The committee had to work harder this year to get it all done, but in the end it all came together.”
Redner said that while the weeklong series of events was not expanded, it was opened up to include the community in general, allowing the effort to grow beyond the membership of the club. A bridge tournament and 5k Run/Walk were expanded in 2010.
“The Quail Valley Charity Cup Committee, over the years, has become an advocate for the challenging work done by each of those organizations in Indian River County. We have learned the needs and each year we work harder to raise money to partner with these organizations. That is a privilege,” Lincoln said.
The John’s Island Service League successfully raised more money in 2010 than last year -- $550,000 to about $480,000 -- said Jeanne Manley, president Service League, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary.
Through a very intense grant process, the charity provides funding largely for the agencies serving the needs of women and children, said Manley. The organization was thrilled with the response it received for its fundraising events, she said.
“It’s really something,” Manley.
The county, under pressure to keep property taxes down, took a 22 percent across the board budget cut this year and reduced its workforce to the lowest level in decades. With priorities being essential services, this resulted in about a 55 percent reduction in money given to nonprofit agencies.
About $4.2 million was awarded to outside agencies and nonprofits, down from $9.7 million in 2008.
Included in the group of charities affected by these cuts were Childrens’ Services Council, the Samaritan Center, Alzheimer and Parkinson’s Association of Indian River County, Wabasso Meals on Wheels, Treasure Coast Food Bank and the Indian River County Mental Health Collaborative, among others.
With potentially fewer dollars to give, the county government is not the only big-giver that is taking a hard look at its budget.
Philanthropic local residents are prioritizing the causes they give to and the high-ticket events they attend.
High profile events such as the Healthy Start Coalition’s Dancing with Vero’s Stars and the Humane Society’s Cause for Paws have captured the spotlight and done well despite the economy.
“Some donors might have had to decrease or delete some of their charitable giving due to unexpected changes in their financial picture,” Bartlett said. “I believe they are still committed to support those organizations whose mission are a personal passion for them and their family.”
Others take a more analytical approach to giving in economic down times, honing in on those organizations who help the truly needy -- such as the hungry, the homeless and at-risk children -- and tapering off on organizations which provide something that may be deemed as nonessential.
Donors may imagine or even ask the organization what the opportunity cost is of them foregoing an annual gift -- what will go away if they don’t contribute this year -- and depending on the answer, that’s where they focus their resources.
“I would expect they are being more strategic with their giving and focusing on those with whom they have a personal connection and understand how their dollars are making a meaningful impact on the issues addressed by the nonprofit,” Bartlett said.
“Demonstrating results is more critical than ever.”
But what if you don’t serve little children and the “meaningful impact” is harder to demonstrate? That’s the challenge of some agencies, like the Indian River Cultural Council, which is in danger of being dissolved.
Susan Grandpierre chairs the Cultural Council board and she said the organization is retooling its fundraising efforts to survive some painful recent cuts in the government funding which used to keep it afloat. Membership makes up about 8 percent of the Cultural Council’s income and it brings in some cash from events like the upcoming Opera on the River on April 9 and Laurel Awards banquet on April 23.
“We need to become financially sustainable and viable,” she said. “It’s been a real mindset of pure service and helping our members and we know we have to do something different.”
Local public relations professional and event promoter Beverly Paris is working as a volunteer to help the Cultural Council as it tries to weather some very hard times.
“The Cultural Council has found itself in a bit of a pickle with the loss of state funding and less money coming from fundraisers and other sources, and quite honestly, if they don’t find some additional funds, they’re in danger of closing their doors,” she said. “Their immediate future is in jeopardy and what they need is an angel to come forward.”
Paris said when arts patrons attend an event such as a play, they see the venue that put that play on, but they don’t make the connection that it’s the Cultural Council keeping artists and cultural issues in the forefront.
“I don’t think a lot of people in this area really understand what an arts council does and how important it is to the local artists and cultural venues,” Paris said.
“Health organizations and children’s causes are obvious ones, but most of us do really enjoy the facets of cultural activities we have in this county.”