Arts For Life plugs seriously ill kids into art

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In 2001, Anna Littman spent a lot of time visiting her 11-year-old sister, at the time a cancer patient at Brenner Children’s Hospital in Winston-Salem.

Seeing her sister and other children with serious illnesses at the hospital inspired Littman to do something to try to lift their spirits and shift their focus to creative activities.

So she rounded up donations of cameras, film and journals that her sister and the other kids could use to document their experiences in the hospital.

That effort led Littman to form Arts For Life, a Weaverville-based nonprofit that in 2011 provided over 257 hours a week of art and music programs for over 5,000 children and their families in hospitals in Asheville, Charlotte, Durham and Winston-Salem.

“It provides the children, both in-patient and out-patient, the opportunity to be involved in either art or music activities that divert their mind from having to deal with serious health issues,” says Don Timmons, the nonprofit’s Clemmons-based director of development.

Operating with an annual budget of $400,000, Arts for Life also employs four program directors who are based at Brenner, at Mission Children’s Hospital in Asheville, at Duke Children’s Hospital & Health Center in Durham, and at Presbyterian Hemby Children’s Hospital in Charlotte.

The organization generates all its support through contributions, grants, sponsorships and special events, including support from the four hospitals.

Working with volunteers and paid arts fellows, those directors make art and music, including materials, instruments and lessons, available to seriously ill children and their families.

Breaking the gloom of a family visit to a sick child, for example, a music fellow may knock on the door of the child’s hospital room, and then walk in pushing a cart filled with guitars, drums and other percussion instruments.

“In 10 minutes, the dynamics of the room have transformed to the entire family singing a song together,” Timmons says.

To help generate more support and expand its programs, Arts For Life in 2012 held “Princess Balls” for girls that raised $5,000 and $2,000, respectively, for its programs in Winston-Salem and Asheville, and plans to hold similar events this year in Charlotte and Durham.

It also has launched “The Hope Mosaic,” a collaborative project to benefit its program at Presbyterian Hemby.

The event aims to raise $40,000 and involve up to 100 local artists, children and teens, each of whom will paint a 6-inch-by-6-inch canvas, all of which then will be stitched together to form a large mosaic that will be exhibited at two Charlotte locations before being unveiled this spring at the hospital.

Timmons, who joined Arts For Life in July after serving for 4-and-a-half years as regional director of the Central and Western North Carolina chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, says he also will be holding lunch ‘n’ learn workshops for any companies or other organizations that would like to know more about the organization and becoming sponsors.

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Fundraising, Part 1: Basics key as economy starts to recover

By Todd Cohen

[Note: This article is from a report written for Blackbaud, which asked me to look at fundraising strategies that nonprofits have found to be effective.]

With the struggling economy beginning to show some life again, and donors regaining some confidence, nonprofits need to be focusing on fundraising fundamentals.

That is the view of fundraising professionals in nine fields of interest.

“The primary tactic that seems to work most effectively is to ask people for money,” says John Taylor, associate vice chancellor for advancement services at North Carolina State University.

“So many organizations I have worked with just kind of sit back and watch the money come in the door, and expect the same dollars from the same donors every year, and fail to recognize that the philanthropic climate is changing,” he says.

Bill McGinly, president of the Association for Healthcare Philanthropy, says building a “culture of philanthropy” within a nonprofit is critical, as is building the capacity of the nonprofit’s fundraising operation.

“Until fundraising is recognized as a strategic partner in planning for today and for the future of the organization,” he says, “you’re going to struggle a bit more in order to build or grow philanthropy.”

From engaging donors and volunteers and demonstrating impact to effective branding, direct-response marketing and back-office operations, fundraising professionals say, nonprofits need to invest in their fundraising programs and operations if they expect to produce results.

This series looks at some strategies that fundraising professionals say are working in their fields of interest, starting with higher education.

Higher education

When John Taylor joined N.C. State University as associate vice chancellor for advancement services in November 2008, just after the economy collapsed, the school’s advancement operation had less than a handful of prospect researchers and roughly 1,300 rated prospects coming out of its most recent campaign.

Today, the school employs three people in its prospect management department and another six in its prospect research department, and has 21,000 rated prospects in its database, Taylor says.

That is one result of a “complete reengineering process” of its fundraising operation that N.C. State launched at about the time Taylor joined the university.

Spurring that overhaul have been not only the ailing economy but also heightened competition for philanthropic dollars, huge growth in the number of nonprofits, and the added challenge of catastrophic disasters like Hurricane Sandy, he says.

“You just can’t rely on those same dollars from those same donors,” he says.

Key to N.C. State’s strategy has been support for engaging its donors, including “more focused suggestions,” renewals of annual gifts, “more targeted” asks, and solicitation of eight-figure gifts.

And that has paid off: In the first six months of the fiscal year that began July 1, N.C. State raised $82.4 million, up from $26.9 million in the same period a year earlier.

The school is working with donors not just to renew the gifts they make every year, but to make “much more substantive, transformational gifts,” Taylor says.

Its prospect management meetings, for example, feature “focused conversations about strategies for approaching donors, prospect assignments, and making sure the assignments are fairly distributed” across the range of donor categories.

Those categories include initial “discovery” of prospects and whether they are viable as donors; “stewardship” of donors who have made a gift; “emerging” prospects who will be asked to make a gift within three years; and “top prospect” donors who will be solicited within 12 to 18 months.

The advancement office also sets expectations for major gift officers on the size of their portfolio, and on the number of asks and visits they should make, and uses that information to show their progress and evaluate their performance.

It also has invested heavily in infrastructure, increasing its advancement services staff by 50 percent to just over 30 people, and converting its operating system and development software system.

And it has been “asking people for money, and in particular for more money,” Taylor says.

In the six months through Dec. 31, 2012, annual giving totaled $1 million, up from $837,000 in the same period a year earlier.

And the number of households giving $1,000 or more has grown 25 percent.

“The most important tactic,” Taylor says, “is engagement of your constituency.”

Next: Healthcare groups invest in development capacity

The series:

Fundraising, Part 1: Basics key as economy starts to recover

Fundraising, Part 2: Health care groups invest in development capacity

Fundraising, Part 3: Human services groups focus on direct response marketing

Fundraising, Part 4: Museums aim to diversify donor base

Fundraising, Part 5: Major gifts a focus of environmental group

Fundraising, Part 6: Direct marketing a key for public society benefit group

Fundraising, Part 7: International affairs group aims to show

Fundraising, Part 8: Faith-based groups count on direct mail

Fundraising, Part 9: Independent school partners with parent volunteers

Nonprofit news roundup, 02.15.13

Wake Tech raises $10.8 million in ‘quiet’ phase

Wake Tech has kicked off the public phase of a campaign to raise $12.5 million, and already has raised $10.8 million in the campaign’s quiet phase.

Funds from the campaign, known as “The Ripple Effect,” will  support scholarships, new technology, and faculty and staff innovation.

Wake Tech, which opened on Oct. 7, 1963, as the W.W. Holding Industrial Education Center, now is the largest of the 58 community colleges in North Carolina, last year serving over 66,000 students or the equivalent of 1 in 8 Wake County adults.

Greensboro funder names chief operating officer

Mona Gillis Edwards, a vice president and chief of staff at the Center for Creative Leadership, has been named chief operating officer for the Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro, effective March 11.

Edwards, who joined the Foundation’s board in 2008 and has served on its executive committee, chaired its marketing committee and played a key role in creating its current five-year strategic plan, will be responsible for day-to-day management of the Foundation and will assist its president, Walker Sanders, in translating organizational goals into its overall operational plan.

SECU Foundation funds innovation prize

SECU Foundation awarded the first of four planned $200,000 annual grants to support the newly named State Employees’ Credit Union Emerging Issues Prize for Innovation through the Institute for Emerging Issues at NC State University.

The 2014 Prize for Innovation competition will engage college level students to collaborate and respond to challenges facing their communities and the state, specifically in the areas of education, health, natural and built environments, and the economy.

SECU Foundation’s gift will allow the Institute to expand on its Prize for Innovation competition, offering $50,000 in prizes to winning college teams in each issue area.

Black Philanthropy Initiative awards $20,000

The Black Philanthropy Initiative at the Winston-Salem Foundation awarded $20,000 in grants in late 2012 from the Black Philanthropy Fund for programming that supports African-Americans in the area of financial literacy. Grants included $5,000 each to Experiment in Self-Reliance, Family Services, United Metropolitan Ministries, and Work Family Resource Center.

Community Foundation of Western North Carolina expands local food program

The Community Foundation of Western North Carolina has awarded a $35,000 grant through its Food and Farming Focus Area to support expansion of the Appalachian Grown program at the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project, or ASAP, that labels and promotes locally-grown farm products in the marketplace.

ASAP launched the Local Food Campaign in 2000 to build markets for locally-grown food and, with increasing demand, launched the Appalachian Grown program in 2006. Sales of Appalachian Grown certified products in 2012 exceeded $100 million.

Window World launches campaign for St. Jude

Window World in North Wilkesboro, though Window World Cares, its charitable foundation, has launched a national campaign to raise $1 million in 2013 for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Immigration conference set for Raleigh

Immigration will be the focus of a conference on February 28 to be presented from noon to 5 p.m. by the Center for International Understanding at the Hunt Library on the Centennial Campus at N.C. State University in Raleigh.

WDAV launching annual drive

WDAV 89.9 Classical Public Radio will kick off its spring 2013 membership campaign on February 27, with a goal of raising $210,000 by March 7. WDAV generates 80 percent of its $1.6 million annual operating budget from annual membership gifts from individuals and underwriting by area businesses.

Musical event to benefit Charlotte Symphony

The Charlotte Symphony will benefit from Classical Idol, a musical event that will be produced by the Symphony Guild of Charlotte, sponsored by Time Warner Cable, loosely patterned after American Idol, focusing on music in the daily life of the community, and held April 12 at 7:30 p.m. at Spirit Square’s McGlohon Theater, with a reception starting at 6:30 p.m.

Autism Society poised for growth

By Todd Cohen

RALEIGH, N.C. — In their long session that convened January 9, state lawmakers are expected to consider a bill that would require private health insurers to cover treatment related to autism.

That requirement would cover costs that can exceed $50,000 a year for some families and on average would add 31 cents a month to costs for all people insured by companies that offer autism coverage in the 32 other states that have passed similar legislation, says Tracey Sheriff, CEO of the Autism Society of North Carolina.

The legislation, he says, is important in the face of continuing growth in the prevalence of autism, which affects one in 88 individuals in the U.S., including over 60,000 North Carolinians,  up from one in 150 in 2000.

Founded in 1970, the Autism Society provides advocacy, training and education, and direct services for individuals with autism and their families.

The Raleigh-based agency operates with an annual budget of $16 million and a staff of 125 people working full-time, 525 working part-time, and 50 to 75 seasonal employees who work at its Camp Royall in Chatham County.

With five regional offices and five satellite offices throughout the state, the agency in the fiscal year ended June 30, 2012, served nearly 11,000 people with autism, a developmental disability characterized by difficulties in understanding social relationships and interactions.

The Autism Society, for example, employs 18 parent advocates who serve parents of children with autism in all 100 counties in the state, providing support for children throughout their lives.

It also operates 49 chapters, all led by volunteers, that serve families and provide peer support in 66 counties.

And it serves an advocate on public policy issues, including the shift to managed care and the impact it will have on families living with autism.

The agency also provides workshops, conferences and consulting for individuals and families, as well as training for organizations ranging from schools, libraries and churches to medical practices, hospitals, child care providers, and employers. And it operates a bookstore, the largest in the U.S. on autism, that offers 700 titles and last year sold 5,000 items.

It provides residential housing for 25 adults in seven communities, as well as job training, “day programming” for people with autism not ready for competitive employment, and community-based services, mainly for children who live at home.

And its 38-year-old, 133-acre Camp Royall, the oldest and largest camp in the U.S. for people with autism, served 350 adults and children from ages 4 to 64 last summer in 10 one-week sessions, and also serves another 650 people during the rest of the year.

The Autism Society generates $10.3 million in Medicaid reimbursements for its community-based services, housing, and day programs, and $3.3 million through a state contract to help underwrite its advocacy services for individuals and families, its camp, and its training and education services.

It raises another $1.4 million through fundraising, including nearly $150,000 that supports scholarships at Camp Royall.

In December, it raised over $72,000 in its first formal annual fund campaign, double the total it raised a year earlier in its traditional year-end appeal.

It also received a three-year, $100,000 gift from Gregg and Lori Ireland in Chapel Hill through their Ireland Family Foundation to create the position of clinical director, which will be filled by Aleck Myers, the former director of the state’s Murdoch Developmental Center in Butner.

And with founding support from Evernam Family Racing for a Reason, it is launching a program in Davidson that will serve young adults with high-functioning Autism or Asperger’s Syndrome, a mild form of Autism.

While some autism organizations focus on medical research, the Autism Society focuses on supporting people living with the disorder, says Kristy White, the agency’s director of development.

“We are looking to improve the lives of individuals with autism, support families affected by autism, and educate our community,” she says.

Nonprofit revenue, donor numbers drop

Nonprofit revenue fell slightly in the first nine months of 2012 as nonprofits continued to face the erosion in overall donor numbers they have experienced for most of the past five years, fueled mainly by declines in acquisition of new donors, a new report says.

In the face of those declines, median revenue in the first three quarters of 2012 fell a median 2 percent from the same period in 2011, according to the Target Q3 Index of National Fundraising Performance.

The Index is based on the evaluation of transactions from 75 large organizations, mainly focused on direct mail, that had over 37 million donors and over 78 million gifts totaling over $2.3 billion for the 12 months ended in the third quarter of 2012.

Among those organizations, 43 percent had revenue increases for the period, while 57 percent had revenue declines.

Donor numbers fell a median 3.2 percent for the nine-month period in 2012, compared to the same period in 2011, continuing a trend that began the recession, which the National Bureau of Economic Research says began in December 2007 and ended in June 2009, says Target Analytics, a Blackbaud company.

“Donor populations have been shrinking for the past five years,” Target Analytics says. “The index has not experienced positive year-to-year overall growth since the U.S. Gulf Coast hurricanes in the third quarter of 2005.”

New donor acquisition posted widespread growth in the first half of 2012 but continued for only a few sectors for the first nine months of the year, the report says.

“This may indicate that much of the first-half growth was more of a temporary leveling-off or moderation in long-term acquisition declines, rather than real increases in new donor numbers,” it says.

Revenue amounts per donor grew slightly and varied by segment in the first three quarters of 2012, with 61 percent of organizations Target tracks posting positive growth over the period in revenue per donor.

“Revenue per donor shifts ted to be largely influenced by the mix of donors across different loyalty segments, since long-term donors typically contribute larger amounts than new donors,” the report says.

The relief sector, for example, posted the both biggest drop in overall revenue per donor in the third quarter and the biggest growth in new donors compared to the same period a year earlier, the report says.

“Organization strategy may also be impacting overall revenue per donor as organizations work to maximize net revenue by focusing efforts on higher value donors,” it says.

While the relief sector posted declines in most key measures, those declines represent mainly a “return to normal giving patters from phenomenal disaster-related growth in the two previous years, rather than a concerning decline,” the report says.

The societal benefit sector posted “extremely strong” performance in most key areas for the third quarter, especially in new donor acquisition.

The environmental, human services and religion sectors all overcame donor declines as a result of increases in revenue per donor.

Health organization, while posting declining performance in most key measures that continued their pattern of most of the past five years, posted increases in revenue per donor and donor retention and resulting in “slower revenue declines than donor declines,” the report says.

Arts and culture groups had decreases in most key measures in the third quarter after showing some recovery in 2011, with revenue per donor representing the only metric that saw increases in the third quarter.

Nonprofit revenue that Target tracks “has been, in general, weak since the declared end of the recession,” the report says. “Most participating organizations have not yet regained a significant portion of the ground lost over the past four years.”

That trend may not be unexpected, the report says, citing research by the Giving USA Foundation finding that, once a recession is over, “it has taken an average of three to four years for inflation-adjusted charitable giving to rise back up to pre-recession levels.”

The most recent recession, it says, was one of the worst in recent memory and the post-recession recovery has been one of the slowest.

“This implies that the nonprofit industry is likely to  continue to struggle for a while yet,” it says.

Todd Cohen

HandyCapable puts people with disabilities to work

By Todd Cohen

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Carl, a man in his mid-30s, has a severe case of cerebral palsy, a condition that makes it difficult for him to control the use of his arms, legs and parts of his speech.

In his job as a volunteer computer technician, he must be lifted from his electric-powered wheelchair onto a floor mat, where he lies using a headpointer to load software onto refurbished computers and to work as his employer’s webmaster.

His employer is HandyCapable Network, a Greensboro nonprofit that has refurbished over 3,500 computers since it was formed in 2006 to provide computer training for people with developmental disabilities.

Operating with an annual budget of $180,000 and a staff of two people working full-time and three working part-time, the agency works with eight volunteer “HandyTechs” who refurbish used and donated computers that HandyCapable distributes to low-income families and to nonprofits, churches and other groups.

In 2012, with those volunteers contributing over 4,000 hours, HandyCapable placed nearly 500 refurbished computers with low-income families, and refurbished another 400 that were awaiting distribution.

HandyCapable, for example, has distributed over 1,100 computers to the homes of children who are students in six elementary and middle schools  in Guilford County.

Each family that gets a computer also takes part in a 45-minute training session from HandyCapable on how to hook up their computer, use educational software, anti-virus software and open-source office software that is loaded into the computer, and understand internet safety.

HandyCapable was founded by Barbara Davis, who serves as executive director.

In 2000, after managing group homes for people with developmental disabilities, she became “disillusioned and a little sad” that group homes had lost their focus on their clients and had become “more about the money” and about “government regulations in a corporate-like atmosphere,” Davis says.

“It was not leading people with developmental disabilities to become productive members of society,” she says.

Having begun at that time to learn about computers herself, she contracted with The Arc of North Carolina to develop four computer learning centers in the Triad that would provide computer training for people with developmental disabilities.

In addition to four centers she got started at nonprofits and churches in Burlington, Greensboro, High Point and Winston-Salem, Davis started seven other centers at organizations that served low-income people, at-risk kids and senior citizens.

And needing computers for the center, she looked for donated and used computers, learned how to fix them, and began to teach people with disabilities how to fix them.

So when her contract with The Arc ended, she founded HandyCapable.

HandyCapable counts on grants and donations from individuals, foundations and corporations for 75 percent of its revenue, and generates the remainder through earned income.

The Weaver Foundation and the Mary Lynn Richardson Foundation made grants of $7,500 and $5,000, respectively, making it possible for HandyCapable to distribute over 200 computers to low-income families for the most recent holiday season.

And HandyCapable generates revenue from dismantling unusable computers and selling their parts to Powerhouse Recycling in Salisbury.

“We give people with disabilities a place where they can show their abilities,” Davis says, “and find fulfilling work in the community.”