Children’s museum counts on collaboration

By Todd Cohen

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Every Wednesday at about 5 p.m., roughly 25 to 30 students from fourth through eighth grade arrive at the Greensboro Children’s Museum, where for 90 minutes to two hours they learn about nutrition and cooking, and play in the interactive exhibits at the museum.

The program, which began as a tutorial effort launched in the Glenwood neighborhood by Grace Community Church, is sponsored by Dow Corning, which makes Silly Putty at a local plant.

The sponsorship reflects a larger strategy by the museum to expand its programs and reach through collaboration with local companies and organizations.

“We want to continue to develop new community partnerships,” says Marian King, who became CEO of the museum in February after serving as interim CEO starting last July.

Launched in 1999, the museum operates with an annual budget of $1.4 million and full-time staff of 23 plus about 15 high-school and college students who work part-time as “program and learning specialists,” or PALS.

Annual attendance totaled about 127,000 people in the fiscal year ended last June 30, including nearly 16,000 students who attended with school groups, as well as visitors from 24 different states.

“We want to be accessible to everyone,” says King, a Greensboro native and veteran nonprofit executive who worked for the Girls Scouts’ 13-county Tar Heel Triad Council in a broad range of posts for 26 years, including the last 12 as chief operating officer.

Popular features at the 37,000-square-foot museum, which is located in a former car dealership, include an “Our Town” exhibit, as well as a half-acre “Edible School Yard.”

For Our Town, children can play at working in a variety of roles in hands-on exhibits depicting such “Main Street” locales as a grocery store, theater, health center, book store, construction zone, media center and post office.

The museum also includes a big transportation area featuring a race car donated by NASCAR’s Petty family, as well as a fire truck, police car and airplane cockpit.

The Edible School Yard, one of only five in the U.S. and the only one housed at a children’s museum, is part of a national project based in Berkeley, Calif., and coordinated by the Chez Panisse Foundation created by Alice Waters, a chef and restaurateur.

Offering programs after school, evenings and weekends, the Edible School Yard includes a garden and kitchen and lets kids and their families grow and harvest vegetables, learn to cook, and visit a nearby farmers market and buy fresh foods.

The museum generates about 60 percent of its revenue through earned income, including memberships, and counts on contributions, mainly from institutions, for the remainder.

Annual giving, for example, totaled $56,000 in the fiscal year ended June 30, 2011.

And the museum’s “Green Acres Gala,” scheduled for May 18 in its outdoor garden, aims to raise $50,000, up from $35,000 last year.

King says the museum is counting on partnerships like the one with Dow Corning to help it continue to grow.

Thanks to a new sponsorship from Greensboro-based Volvo Trucks North America, for example, the museum in May will open a new exhibit featuring a 13½-foot-high sleeper cab that kids can climb on and see.

King also hopes to build on a fundraising event the museum co-hosted Feb. 4 with the Green Hill Center for North Carolina Art and the Greensboro Public Library Foundation.

The event, which attracted 450 people and raised $60,000 that was divvied up among the three organizations, featured cocktails and appetizers at Green Hill, followed by dinner at the downtown branch of the library a two-minute walk away, followed by dessert and dancing to a live band at the museum across the street.

The Children’s Museum, which has an endowment totaling roughly $300,000 and is in the final year of collecting pledges for a capital campaign that raised $1.2 million for the Edible School Yard, aims to grow by offering new and different programs, and finding new partners, King says.

On April 27, for example, the museum will host a reception celebrating the opening of a new exhibit, “Larger than Life,” that aims to give children a bug’s eye view of the world from tactile, visual and auditory perspectives.

The exhibit has been developed by a group of undergraduate and graduate students in a class taught by Jonathan Anderson, an assistant professor in the department of interior architecture at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

A grant from UNCG paid for about half the $5,000 project, the students have raised funds for it, and Unifi has agreed to make up the difference.

“We want to develop new community partnerships,” King says.


Fundraising, advocacy grow online

Nonprofits posted big gains online in 2011 in revenue from fundraising and in advocacy response rates, although fundraising response rates were nearly flat, a new study says.

Overall online fundraising revenue grew 19 percent from 2010, with the number of gifts growing 20 percent, while the typical gift size fell 2 percent, says the 2012 eNonprofit Benchmarks Study from M&R Strategic Services and NTEN.

The study, based on analysis of aggregate data from 44 nonprofits, also found advocacy response rates grew to 2.8 percent, up 28 percent from 2010.

And nonprofit email-driven donations forms had a median completion rate of 17 percent.

“Email has developed for nonprofits as a marketing tool,” the study says. “More groups are using best practices online to optimize their programs for better open rates, response rates and revenue.”

While one-time gifts remained the largest source of online revenue for participants, 92 percent, the study says, monthly giving grew at a faster rate, 35 percent compared to 23 percent for one-time gifts, but accounted for only 8 percent of total online revenue, up from 5 percent in 2010.

Direct email appeals accounted for 35 percent of online revenue, on average, with the remaining 65 percent from other sources such as unsolicited web giving and peer referrals.

The overall pace of “churn” in email lists totaled 19 percent, including 9 percent lost as a result of supporters who unsubscribed and 10 percent lost as a result of email addresses that became undeliverable.

The average nonprofit Facebook fan page had 31,473 users, or people who “Like” a fan page, and the average nonprofit increased its Facebook fan base by 70 percent.

For every 1,000 members of an email list, the average nonprofit had 103 Facebook fans, 29 Twitter followers, and 12 mobile subscribers.

Harvest Center aims to boost homeless

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Three Charlotte men recovering from homelessness are starting businesses that will focus on t-shirt design, landscaping and car-detailing.

Helping them incubate their new enterprises has been The Harvest Center of Charlotte, a nonprofit that serves homeless people.

The agency, which began operating in 2001 as a program of Community Outreach Christian Ministries, has fed the men, paired them with businessmen who have advised them and agreed to co-sign microloans for them, and connected them with a credit union in Durham that has made or is considering the loans.

“Homelessness is really symptomatic of other things, like broken relationships, addiction, mental-health issues, and the economy exacerbates it,” says Stephen Smith, a former banker and lawyer who has served as executive director of The Harvest Center since December 2010.

A key goal of the agency’s business-incubation program, he says, is to give clients a boost in “controlling your own destiny.”

Operating with an annual budget of $500,000, a staff of five people and hundreds of volunteers, the agency serves hot meals, distributes food and clothing, provides housing, and offers educational programs.

Last year, for example, with food purchased from and donated by Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina in Charlotte, The Harvest Center distributed over 1.8 million pounds of food.

And this year, it expects to serve over 112,000 hot meals to individuals and families.

The agency last year also distributed nearly 19,000 blankets and clothing items.

It provides classes on academic subjects and, in partnership with Jacob’s Ladder Job Center, it offers classes on topics such as how to write a resume or handle a job interview.

Through a partnership with Dove’s Nest, the women’s shelter of the Charlotte Rescue Mission, the agency offers counseling and an addiction-recovery program for women.

And in a partnership with Southeast Psychology, a mental-health counseling firm in South Park, The Harvest Center offers counseling to a handful of individual clients, as well as classes and lectures for about 300 people who visit the center for hot meals.

The agency also is talking with the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte, located about a mile away, about how to collaborate or coordinate their programs to avoid duplication and provide more efficient services for homeless people.

The Harvest Center also provides housing to roughly two families of women and children a year in a four-bedroom house it owns, and to four individuals and a married couple in two other houses owned by a donor who lets the agency use them for clients.

The Harvest Center counts entirely on contributions from individuals, corporations and churches, and the economy has hurt its funding, which fell 18 percent in 2009, the year after the capital markets collapsed.

To boost contributions, the agency will hold two fundraising events this year.

On May 10, for the first time, The Harvest Center’s annual fashion show featuring its clients and volunteers, also will aim to raise money, with a goal of $40,000.

“It’s less about the clothes and more about the transformation of the models,” Smith says.

And late this year, The Harvest Center will host a luncheon at Myers Park Methodist Church that aims to raise $150,000.

Smith says the agency’s Christian focus is integral to its work in helping homeless people get their feet back on the ground.

“That’s an integral part of the transformation,” he says, “loving your neighbor, feeding your neighbor, knowing who your neighbor is.”

Pro-bono lawyers in demand

By Todd Cohen

GREENSBORO, N.C. — When the North Carolina State Bar was considering a new rule for professional conduct, adopted two years ago, that calls on every lawyer in the state to “aspire” to contribute at least 50 hours of pro-bono work a year, Ed Winslow opposed the idea.

And before the Greensboro Bar Association last year launched the Herbert Falk Society to recognize lawyers who contribute over 75 pro-bono hours a year, Winslow, then the association’s president, voted against the program.

“The nature of public service would be you don’t do it for credit, you do it because it’s part of being a professional, a part of your identity,” says Winslow, managing partner in the Greensboro office of Brooks Pierce.

The approach favored by Winslow – that lawyers should volunteer because it is their responsibility, not because it is required – seems to be effective.

Brooks Pierce, which employs 90 lawyers, including 60 in North Carolina, recently was honored by publication Benchmark Litigation as “pro-bono firm of the year” in a 14-state region in the South.

With the damaged economy creating a lot of legal problems among people who cannot afford legal services, demand for pro-bono legal work is growing, says Al Wallis, executive director of the Brown Rudnick Center for the Public Interest in Boston and co-president of the Association of Pro Bono Counsel, a national group that supports pro-bono work at commercial law firms.

After the economy collapsed in 2008 and law firms were eliminating positions or delaying the hiring of new associates, he says, many firms gave stipends to prospective associates to work for public-interest groups, and encouraged their own lawyers to do pro-bono work.

That experience, he says, has reinforced the business value of pro-bono work as a way to develop professional skills and relationships with nonprofits and other pro-bono lawyers that otherwise might not have developed.

Roughly 80 to 90 firms in the U.S. employ someone who spends half their time or more coordinating pro-bono work, says Wallis, whose firm, Brown Rundick, gives every one of its roughly 89 associates billable-hours credit for at least 50 to 100 hours of pro-bono work, based on their billable hours from the previous year.

Partners also are encouraged to engage in pro-bono work.

According to the Pro Bono Institute, lawyers at 138 large law firms that participated in the organization’s Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge in 2010 completed a total of over 4.45 million hours of pro-bono work.

The economic downturn also has resulted in cuts in government support for Legal Aid of North Carolina, cuts that have made pro-bono work by private lawyers “much more critical,” says George R. Hausen Jr., the organization’s executive director.

The statewide group, which operates 20 offices, down from 24 a year ago, last year instituted a pro-bono project that already has recruited 500 lawyers, mainly in partnership with the North Carolina Bar Association, bringing Legal Aid’s pro-bono roster to 2,500 lawyers.

Kilpatrick Townsend, a national firm that employs over 100 lawyers in North Carolina, including 60 in Winston-Salem, 30 in Raleigh and 12 in Charlotte, requires every lawyer to perform at least 30 hours of pro-bono work a year.

“We expect more, and people do more,” says Debbie Segal, the firm’s Atlanta-based pro-bono partner.

The firm’s lawyers last year contributed 30,625 hours of pro-bono work valued at $12.5 million, based on the number of hours they worked and their billable rates.

The firm focuses its pro-bono work on the needs of low-income people, organizations that serve them, small community groups and nonprofits, and human rights, civil rights and environmental issues.

Ten years ago, for example, Segal worked with the Legal Aid Society of Northwest North Carolina, which now is part of Legal Aid of North Carolina, and with district court judges in Forsyth County, to create a guardian ad litem program for the county that would train lawyers to represent the best interests of children whose parents were disputing custody.

The firm continues to partner with that program, which now is part of the Children’s Law Center.

And in North Carolina and Georgia, the firm created a “grandparent-adoption” program, representing low-income grandparents or other family members who are raising relatives’ children whose parents cannot care for them, a growing problem since the economy collapsed in 2008, Segal says.

Pro-bono efforts at Brooks Pierce include working with the North Carolina Bar Association to establish North Carolina Lawyers for Entrepreneurs Assistance Program, or NC LEAP, an effort that provides pro-bono legal services to low-wealth entrepreneurs.

And Winslow, on a pro-bono basis, provided legal counsel in the formation of the Foundation for the Greensboro Public Library, a client he still serves on a pro-bono basis.

Brooks Pierce is “very committed to the proposition that pro-bono and civic engagement is encouraged and supported,” says Winslow, “but it’s a matter of individual choice by individual professionals, and not something that the firm requires or incents in any tangible way.”