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Article edited - nonprofits refine pitch for donors

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  • 1. From the The Business Review:http://www.bizjournals.com/albany/stories/2010/08/30/story2.htmlNonprofits refine pitch for donor dollarsPremium content from The Business Review - by Pam AllenDate: Monday, August 30, 2010, 12:00am EDTGail Wilson-Giarratano prepares for a grilling when she asks for money for Girls Inc. of the Capital Region, a youth program forinner-city girls in Schenectady and Albany.Gone are the days when corporate donors wrote checks for the “nice” programs or the “cute” girls, said Wilson-Giarratano, thenonprofit’s CEO and its chief fundraiser.“That doesn’t fly anymore. They want to see financials, business plans, sources of revenue. They want to know how you’rechanging the communities in which you exist,” she said.The recession has left corporate donors with less money to give, and they are scrutinizing charitable requests with a keen eye.Now, more than ever, return on investment weighs heavily in determining who gets what.“That element of improving the community is really elevated now. Donors want to know how sustainable and reliable you canbe to have an impact. They want to know if their money’s at risk,” said Doug Sauer, CEO of the New York Council of Nonprofitsin Albany, a 2,000-member trade group.Funders are scrutinizing how organizations manage their money—from programming costs to long-term investments—and mostdon’t want their contributions to replace government cuts.“People want to know if you’ll be around,” Sauer said.Last year Wilson-Giarratano, along with Girl’s Inc.’s chief operating officer and its program specialist, prepared over severalmonths to make a formal pitch for a grant from Time Warner Cable.In making the pitch, the three spent more than a half-hour showing an on-site video, answering questions about incomesources and fundraising practices, detailing their programs and offering tangible proof that the girls are learning abouttechnology, math and science, areas necessary to qualify for one of Time Warner’s annual “Connect a Million Minds” grants.“Basically, it was like bidding for a job,” Wilson-Giarratano said.The presentation helped the nonprofit secure $15,000. Girls Inc. was one of only three or four local nonprofits to receive grantmoney from the broadcasting company.Stewart’s Foundation is sensitive to recent government cuts for charities, said Susan Dake, president of the foundation, thecharitable arm of Stewart’s Shops Corp.As such, it will give short-term aid to nonprofits that lose government funds, provided they have a solid recovery plan.“We need to make sure that the organization stays strong. You can give people a lot of money, but if they’re not strong you’renot doing them a favor,” Dake said.The foundation also considers a nonprofit’s other funding mechanisms before granting money, as having a limited number ofsupporters can be a red flag.“Sometimes they may get a little desperate and ask us for the whole thing. We don’t want an organization to be dependent on asingle donor,” Dake said.Stewart’s Foundation expects to fund $2.25 million in nonprofit grants this year ($500,000 of that will be in products and giftcertificates), the same amount it funded in 2009.Requests are increasing, both in volume and amount, however. Last year the foundation received 7,500 requests, 3,000 ofwhich asked for money. And while it typically funds about 75 percent of those requests, many do not get the entire askingamount, Dake said.Some nonprofits that previously had been served by the foundation did not request money this year because they didn’t expectto be funded.“Some aren’t asking because they’ve had so much rejection elsewhere,” Dake said.United Way of the Greater Capital Region is seeing fewer grant requests than in years past.CEO Kathy Pelham points to the organization’s application process, which has gotten more rigorous, and the maximum grantamounts. United Way grants range from $5,000 to $100,000 or more for collaborative applications.“If you can find $10,000 from a few individual donors, it may be a better use of your resources,” Pelham said.
  • 2. United Way also strongly emphasizes collaboration, meaning grant applications from combined organizations stand a betterchance of getting funded.“It’s been a point of focus for us,” Pelham said. This year the organization will disburse $5.8 million in grant money to 1,500area nonprofit groups.The flagging economy pushed the Troy Savings Bank Charitable Foundation to add two new grant initiatives in 2009.A new “core support” grant funds up to $10,000 for human services nonprofits whose operations budgets are taxed byadditional community demand. It is the first time the Troy foundation has awarded money for operating expenses.Qualifying for the special grants is no easy feat. First, organizations must explain the cost-cutting measures they employedbefore applying for the emergency funding. They must also show how they collaborated with other groups to share servicesprior to their grant request.Leslie Cheu, the foundation’s executive director, said the uncertain economy offers the opportunity for nonprofits to look hard attheir purpose, and whether they are operating effectively and efficiently.“This is a time for organizations to carefully consider their missions and perhaps ask some hard questions about the best waysto achieve their goals,” Cheu said. “For example, should they consider collaborations or mergers with other, like organizations?Should they share office space or back-room operations? Are there programs or services that have outlived their usefulness?”Charities in this area don’t have the benefit of large foundations that serve other parts of the state, said the nonprofit council’sSauer.He cited such examples as the Dyson Foundation in Dutchess County and The Gifford Foundation in Syracuse, which can grantup to $18 million a year to human services groups.“We here are deficient in that area,” Sauer said. “So if you’re looking for a patch until something else will come around,nothing’s coming around.”pallen@bizjournals.com | 518-640-6812

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