Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Fifth annual Lowcountry Artist Award Show this Friday

Local artist, J.B. Boyd, will reveal his 3-inch by 10-foot painting of Grey's Bay near his Goat Island residence on Friday February 27th during the City Gallery opening reception of his new show titled Grey. He was able to complete this work with funding he recently received from the Griffith Visual Arts Fund. The opening reception is from 6pm-8pm, is open to the public, and has been made possible in part by the generous offering and partnership with the City of Charleston Office of Cultural Affairs. The Griffith Visual Art Fund was started in 2003 by Mike and Donna Griffith, art supporters and art appreciators, to enable local artists to thrive in their mediums without the burdens of financial stress. Applications for the 2009 Griffith winner are now being accepted.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

On The Drawing Board: Expanded Educational Collaboration

The Charles Stuart Mott Foundation's New Day for Learning initiative is encouraging the Charleston County School District to think big. A team at the school district offices has been considering how to deepen their strategic engagement with local nonprofit organizations. The potential for annual funding in excess of $500,000 by the Mott Foundation (matched by local dollars to become a total of $1,000,000) is catalyzing conversations about how to surround students with services provided by nonprofit partners. An afternoon's worth of brainstorming yielded the sloppy white board diagram shown above. In short, three neighborhoods create "one-stop shopping" facilities for students in need of assistance.

Help would be provided in a variety of areas including leadership training, healthcare, literacy, and new ways of involving parents in their children's education, among others. These centers draw the surrounding community into the schools and build upon the proven successes of the local nonprofits.
The idea is not new. Trident United Way's "Links to Success" was a starting point. Trident United Way funds several different projects in several different schools in the Nurturing Youth portion of their grant-making portfolio. Approximately $300,000 of Trident United Way funds goes to Communities in Schools, an organizer of multiple nonprofit service providers who together provide services in schools here and there. The big idea on the drawing boards of Charleston County School District is to link together services for entire feeder pipelines (linkages of elementary, middle, and high schools) in contiguous communities so that students get uninterrupted services all the way through school.
It is a tribute to local nonprofits that the school district is exploring this option for achieving academic excellence. It tells you something about the value educational professionals place on the expertise found inside our local nonprofit organizations.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Beaufort Fund Believes in Impact

Making an impact, let alone measuring one, baffles countless nonprofits in our region. Donors seek results and nonprofits, working to achieve those results, can get tied up in the red tape of progress reports in order to secure annual grants from funders. The Beaufort Fund of Coastal Community Foundation is one of few funding sources that offers multi-year grant commitments to nonprofit agencies who have already received at least five years of grant awards.

It's a win-win situation: funders can streamline grant processes for veteran nonprofits and those agencies can focus on charitable missions and programming. This year eighteen organizations received multi-year grants from The Beaufort Fund totalling distributions in the amount of $254,310. (This is in addition to 31 one year grantees who received $245,690). The multi-year grantees are listed below. Congratulations for setting the pace and continuing to do great work in your communities.

ACCESS Network
Born to Read
Boys & Girls Club of the Lowcountry
Camp Wildwood
CAPA – Child Abuse Prevention Association
CODA – Citizens Opposed to Domestic Abuse
Colleton County Memorial Library
Franciscan Center
Friends of Caroline Hospice
Hampton County Literacy
HELP of Beaufort
Hope Haven of the Lowcountry
Literacy Volunteers of the Lowcountry
Lowcountry Food Bank
Meals on Wheels- Bluffton/Hilton Head
Second Helpings
Thumbs Up
Volunteers in Medicine

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

From Here to There on Pawleys

The locals know the best way from here to there and it is not always what you would think from looking at a map.

Gary Cooper, the head of Winyah Community Health Services based on Pawleys Island, took me out on a drive this afternoon. He took me back off the main road to where Frances P. Bunnelle used to live. Mrs. Bunnelle's estate created the Frances P. Bunnelle Foundation an endowment that distributes several million dollars each year to Georgetown County nonprofits.

Of course I expected Mrs. Bunnelle's property to have a beautiful view of the river. I expected it to be hidden among spreading oaks with the Spanish moss looking timeless and sultry. That much looked familiar even though I had never seen the property before. What I did not expect was the return to the main road. More twists and turns on well-turned out streets and we were back on the main road; Highway 17.

Gary turned to me and said as we paused at the highway, "Do you know where you are now?" I am sure that you have experienced that moment when the scene snaps from strange to familiar. There is a bit of a sensory "pop" as recognition returns.

This time was a second time in the past hour that I felt that "pop." The first time was when Gary said to me that more than $125,000 had been donated to Winyah Community Health Services, a for profit company, from grateful families and relieved caregivers. You might know that Winyah runs hospice facilities throughout the Southeast from South Carolina to Mississippi. Hospice is familiar. Donations are familiar. Giving to for-profit companies is not.

That first "pop" of recognition was the return to familiarity. I knew all about the sense of completeness that comes from making a charitable gift. I just did not connect it with a for profit business.

Gary Cooper's company will be creating an endowment fund with Coastal Community Foundation to provide grateful families and friends a way to give back. Familiar territory to me, unfamiliar road to get there.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Rolling Out the Stimulus Package On Squeaky Wheels

The smart money on Wall Street and the smart politicians in Washington, DC are looking for ways to get the stimulus money out and circulating to lubricate the economy. Here's a novel idea. How about sending the stimulus money to the squeaky wheels? You know, as in the squeaky wheel that gets the oil. I believe that those who are themselves suffering spend wisely and spend locally. Please allow me to recast the recent news to make my point.

As we all have heard, the first wave of the stimulus package went to financial institutions. Unfortunately, the first pulse of stimulus money did not get out on the street in loans or in purchases of services. Banks kept the money in their own savings accounts to strengthen their balance sheets. As Brian Hussain, Coastal Community Foundation's VP for Finance explained to me "This is all about liquidity. Those with liquidity constraints (read: poor folks) spend their money as they get it. Those who have cash reserves (read: rich folks) save the money. In the first stimulus package they gave the money to people who did not have to spend it. So it did not flow into the broader economy."

If we only have a little bit of money (it is hard to imagine a number near one trillion dollars being prefaced by "a little bit of money" but it is all relative, of course) how best to get that money running through the economy? While they are not asking me, everyone's got their own facts and figures to justify their own stimulus plan. Here are my facts:

Fact One: As you probably heard last week, Blackbaud earnings beat expectations. Blackbaud is a Charleston-based software company that makes accounting and fundraising software for museums, schools, arts organizations, and all sorts of other nonprofit organizations. Nonprofits are still spending money even in this economic slowdown because they need to continue to solicit donations and account for the money that comes in. Even while they are hurting they need to keep the fundraising machinery working. That Blackbaud's earnings are above expectations means that the nonprofit sector, while hurting, has at least not lost its way.

Fact Two: As we all heard, Spoleto took a huge hit this year with the State pulling back its support by hundreds of thousands of dollars. Yet in a recent story in Charleston Regional Business Journal, many of their long-time business sponsors, even those that are hurting, are maintaining their high level support for Spoleto. Why? Because Spoleto returns millions of dollars to the local economy (and by extension to those business sponsors) by creating a draw for tourists and so generating customers for the hospitality industry and everyone else. Nonprofits do not pay distant stockholders so they return money to the local economy almost immediately. The few that have endowment funds use that money to stabilize the flow of money back into the local economy during times like these. There is really no other place for the money to go. Local nonprofits purchase goods and services locally. A gift to a nonprofit is a gift that keeps giving.

Fact Three: There is something magic about working at a nonprofit organization that makes you aware of the rest of the community. A case in point: MUSC Staff have donated more than $173,000 to the "Furlough Fund." These donations are coming from people who themselves are taking major pay cuts, furloughs, and are running the risk of losing their jobs. These donations are to repay lower-paid staff who were among the 1,200 staff required to take four days of leave without pay at MUSC. As reported in the Post & Courier, those furloughs are a result budget cuts by the State. MUSC depends on charitable gifts to survive. People, and organizations, that are dependent on the chariable instincts of others are themselves charitable.

So what I get from this collection of facts is that those in need, spend. Those who spend locally, create benefits that reach us all. And finally, those who have the best interests of the community in mind are where I would want to put my money.

So since the smart folks in Washington and Wall Street are not asking each of us our opinions, let's just decide to create our own personal economic stimulus plans. We can each write a check to a nonprofit of our choice and watch as the money goes around and around and comes back to benefit us all.

One more fact.

Fact Four: Charleston Symphony Orchestra and the Charleston Ballet have forged a new partnership in their efforts to ride out these tough times. They will perform together. Both will benefit. Perhaps this how we will all get through this...together.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Retiring Principal Tom Lee Sets New Standard

The gold watch was no doubt stopped months ago. The two "whereas"-laden proclamations petered out right before our eyes. I am here to document how Tom Lee and his friends have forever raised expectations.

James B. Edwards Elementary has been, for the past 30-odd years, headed by the much-loved Principal Tom Lee (pictured at left). Mr. Lee introduced visitors to his school as if he was welcoming them into his home. He introduced students and teachers as if they were part of his family. At his retirement party, while the big screen projectors scrolled through pictures of Mr. Lee in a Santa outfit, then a cowboy hat, then a construction worker's uniform, and finally to a photo of Tom in a woman's dress, you realized that James B. Edwards Elementary was his family, his life, his calling.

While they expected 300 guests at his retirement party, they got 500. Something drew them all there and it was not just the chance to party one more time with Tom Lee. At $25 a head the dinner and the silent auction that followed generated a tidy sum. The money raised will be used to create an endowment named for Tom Lee that will benefit students at the school forever. Everyone wanted to be part of the moment and part of the future too; when the only memory of Tom Lee will be an endowment fund that his friends created to support extraordinary projects at James B. Edwards Elementary.

We had seen in coming, when earlier in the day, our incoming mail was filled with checks made out to the Tom Lee Endowment Fund at Coastal Community Foundation. Liz Marshall, our office manager said "something big must be happening, look at all of these checks."

The overflow crowd that evening wanted to mark the fleeting moment and honor their dear friend Tom Lee. Instead of reading aloud the proclamation from the Mayor, or spending time reading aloud the letter from the Senator, those papers were simply handed to Tom Lee.

What happened throughout the evening was much more meaningful to all involved than gold watches or fancy decrees honoring Mr. Lee. The audience wrote checks. Big checks, little checks, checks for auction items, checks for dinner, checks for any reason at all. Each of the checks touched the future through the newly created endowment fund. This fund will be a permanent and annual remembrance of Tom Lee that will preserve his spirit and concern for "his kids" and "his teachers" forever.

Be warned. At the next retirement party the gold watch won't catch the moment or create the momentum like an endowment fund. The ante has been upped all the way to an endowment.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Fishing for Funding

At the breakfast Rotary club meeting in Bluffton this past week, Al Stokes, Manager of the Waddell Mariculture Center, described Governor Sanford's efforts to close the facility in a budget-cutting move. The Bluffton aquaculture facility releases millions of fish and shrimp each year to enhance the recreational and commercial fisheries in South Carolina. Fortunately for Waddell there are many fishing enthusiasts who have purchased the recreational fishing licenses that fund the Center. More than a thousand have signed an electronic petition urging the Governor to reconsider.

Tallulah Trice has just joined the Center as a fundraiser. She is fishing for philanthropists. In this age of declining government support raising funds from private donors is the new survival strategy. That we need to resort to direct mail campaigns, membership drives, newsletters, and open houses to generate private support is not a shame, its a strength. It is informed decision-making driven down to the single citizen level.

The pendulum that swings from tax relief to tax increases appears to be returning to the center. But as more and more government-supported agencies take on a new paradigm, one of education and stewardship of prospective and current donors, might that whole idea of a pendulum be too one dimensional? Might the real shift be instead from taxation to donation?

You remember that old saying about giving a fish versus teaching fishing? Maybe we are now not just talking fishing, but instead a whole new kind of that involves growing donors instead of just catching dollars.