Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Hidden Cost of Art

Art per se is perhaps the most profitable product on the planet. Designer jeans sell for hundreds of dollars more than jeans at discount retailers, but they don't cost hundreds of dollars more to make. The material used to paint a watercolor costs next to nothing, but in an artist's hands those pigments can come to cost a pretty penny. We gladly pay the artist who with a few minutes can take pen to paper, or dance across the stage, and in doing so create something that seems a bargain at any price. So why is the business of Arts organizations so pitiful?

A recent report from The Johns Hopkins Listening Post Project called Impact of the Economic Recession on Nonprofits presented data showing that Arts organizations in the US are generally in trouble. Nearly three-quarters of Theaters and half of Orchestras report "severe" or "very severe" financial stress this year. In Charleston, Arts organizations with large payrolls have cut expenses and laid off long-time Staff as a result of a drop in charitable donations. Sales have remained strong, however, even increasing for particular performances or for the works of particular artists. As a whole the Arts community is suffering but there are shining stars out there that continue to do well.

Artists themselves say the cause of this pitiful state of affairs in Charleston is due to lack of leadership. That doesn't seem right as never have there been so many Arts leaders clamoring to head up a central clearinghouse of information about the arts, be advocates for the arts, or both. There is the League of Charleston Theaters, Charleston Arts Coalition, Office of Cultural Affairs, a new one called Alliance for the Performing Arts in Charleston, Redux, and the list goes on.

Since artists think leadership is lacking they have created multiple organizations to lead. Each one is struggling to be "the one." Patrons of the Arts see things differently. They are used to paying for art and perhaps that explains the difference. Patrons see the rockstars out there and are looking for the "roadies." They point out that sometimes the strongest leaders lead less and collaborate more. This is not a criticism of the Arts community alone because we at Coastal Community Foundation hear this with regard to all charitable fields of interest. We have heros and success stories across the full spectrum of the nonprofit sector. Finding the rockstars, that is not the problem say the Patrons of the Arts. What we need is quiet collaboration that allows limited resources to be shared to create services beneficial to all.

As Julian Wiles of Charleston Stage keeps reminding me, it is not that we will save money by fostering collaboration between Arts organizations, it is that we will share the additional expenses required to build the killer website, pay the marketing gurus, send the lobbyist to Columbia, and build a community that supports the Arts even when the economy turns down.

It is paying for the backoffice, the marketing machine, the ambience that allows the art to arrive, in a word the "collaboration" that makes those designer jeans so expensive, that painting so pricey, that show a must-see at all costs. That is the hidden cost of Art that artists themselves (but not their Patrons) are reluctant to pay.

The hand drawn image of the five-dollar bill shown above can be found at

Monday, August 24, 2009

Malcolm Haven Award for Selfless Community Giving

August 24th was indeed a special day in North Charleston.

Not only was it the dedication ceremony of the North Charleston Jerry Zucker Middle School of Science, but also the great scientist, inventor, and S.C. philanthropist's 60th birthday his wife Anita remarked at the well-attended morning presentation and reception at the new school.

Anita Zucker accepted the Coastal Community Foundation's recognition of the late Jerry Zucker's Selfless Community Giving in the late Malcolm Haven's honor. The 2009 Malcolm Haven Award will hang in the Zucker Middle School halls to provide inspiration to its ambitious students.

Posing with Jerry Zucker’s portrait are Dr. Nancy J. McGinley (CCSD Superintendent of Schools), Honorable Mayor Keith Summey, Richard Hendry (VP of Programs Coastal Community Foundation), Anita Zucker, Sherry Biss (ZMS Principal), Philippe Cousteau (Distinguished Guest), Charlotte Anderson (TUW 211 Hotline Director), and Rabbi Ari Sytner.

Happy birthday, Jerry.

And here is the rest of it.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Repairing the World -- Jerry Zucker Middle School of Science

"It is something Jerry and our whole family believes in. We need to repair the world." That's how Anita Zucker explains it. But how? How does one person, or even a family, repair the whole world? With the opening of Jerry Zucker Middle School of Science, the world will be a better place. But that's only the beginning.

At 9:30 am on August 24th, in North Charleston, Jerry Zucker Middle School of Science will celebrate its germination as a partial magnet school. Ms. Sheryl Biss, the school's Principal, has invited dozens of people as has Coastal Community Foundation. From that moment onward, powered by its own momentum, the repair will begin. Like a germinating seed, full of hope, an idea will spread. Here's how.

In the entryway a portrait of Jerry Zucker will hang. Next to it the Haven Award, bestowed on those, like Anita and Jerry Zucker, whose selfless acts of charity have made a difference in the community. Kids will come and go. Jerry Zucker will be remembered as each of us remember the namesake of our own middle school. However, the memory will have a distinct difference.

As a result of the Zucker family involvement tens of thousands of dollars, from dozens if not hundreds of donors will flow into a special fund at Coastal Community Foundation. Those funds will be used to augment and enhance the learning environment at the school. An activity bus will be purchased. Lab coats for the teachers, with the school logo, will be distributed. Kids will see first-hand the power of a whole community caring about their future.

A small army of young people will be nurtured. They will nurture others. They will remember, perhaps vaguely, that there was someone who cared enough to start a repair job. As each of these young people go forward they will recognize that they have the power to change the world, just as the Zucker family did...and so, the world will be repaired.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Guest Blogger: Tough Times for Non-Profits

During a period of economic stress, it is clear that many charitable enterprises are having difficulty in generating donations and grants while keeping expenses down. There are also human problems which are bound to accompany stress as well as the obvious problems relating to letting employees go to keep expenses under control.

What can be done? How can not-for-profit enterprises respond creatively to this hornet nest of difficulties?

A few thoughts – none of them necessarily original – may be worth digesting … among them:

1) Outreach – Boards of not-for-profit firms are often less than perfect in guiding the enterprise. Meetings appear to be substantive, but momentum can be lost before the next gathering. It is axiomatic that all board members should qualify for at least two out of the three “W’s” (wealth, work, and wisdom), but evidence of meeting such criteria is sometimes hard to find.

Without regard as to how effective any not-for-profit board might be, it can be worthwhile exploring ways to reach beyond the traditional outreach of any board – both in terms of fundraising and ideas. A concept that resonates with a few such firms is that of creating a new board with broader geographical representation. This group of individuals would not replace, but rather supplement the existing board. Naturally a cost/benefit analysis of the effort should be conducted. The naming of this second board has been easy – President’s Council and Board of Overseers have been used in the past.

2) Networking – In addition, it might be more important now, more than ever before, to initiate gatherings of non-for-profit staff and/or board representatives working in similar areas of interest. Hopefully this effort would lead to more collaboration than competition or even generate mergers in fields of common interest. Those who have served on many boards can spot possibilities of combining forces in the fields of culture, the environment, and even education. It might be worth examining the need for two symphony orchestras in one area, saving farmland and promoting healthy eating habits elsewhere, and even in combining an upper and a lower school. These are only a few examples of what enlightened networking can accomplish when merger ideas develop.

3) Funding Ideas – It is no secret that funds held over a period of time without invasion can compound nicely. It was none other than Albert Einstein who praised the value of compounding interest, and none other than Benjamin Franklin who apparently gave the City of Boston $100 many years ago – a gift that was allowed to compound over the years, producing miraculous results.

The difficulty, of course, is that most charitable organizations feel it necessary to live hand-to-mouth rather than impose a discipline of keeping $1,000, $10,000, or $100,000 untouched for years. If such a donation was placed in an endowment as a discreet amount, invested in a stock or bond index fund, it would allow the board to measure the work of the independent money manager while, at the same time, contributing to the life of the enterprise.

An afterthought: Many not-for-profit firms have a toolkit of skills and accomplishments which might provide an opportunity for making money in the marketplace. If it is useful to explore the possibilities of selling ideas to educate, to entertain, or to save the environment, these notions should be discussed by the board. It should be recognized, along with the possibility of allowing a portion of the endowment to remain untouched for an extended period of time, that there are relatively few examples of a for-profit effort cohabiting with a not-for-profit culture or for a portion of the endowment serving a long-term purpose, but necessity can be the mother of invention.

This list is by no means all-inclusive, but it may serve to generate ideas which could lead to an easier path through difficult times. It is in this spirit and with this hope that these thoughts were written.

John Winthrop is a Charleston resident who has created several endowment funds at Coastal Community Foundation.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Accepting donations online

Many nonprofits want to accept donations online, but don't want to pay the processing fee charged by many sites. With Razoo, the processing fee is no longer a concern.

So what's the catch? Believe it or not, there isn't one! I contacted Razoo with that very question. They told me there is a donor backing their service who believes it is important for nonprofits to have online donation capabilities without losing a percentage for service fees. Knowing that 100% of your donation goes to nonprofits using Razoo is definitely enough for me, but there are also other features that are pretty cool.

No account required! Signing up for an account can be a barrier for many donors. It is still a good idea to set up an account with Razoo since it lets you track your donation history.

Connect with Facebook. If you have a Facebook account, you can use that to log-in to Razoo and share information with your Facebook friends.

Fund-raising pages. I've seen some pretty cool fund-raising pages out there, but they generally carry a fee, either through a percentage or a set up cost. Razoo lets you set up a fund-raising page at no charge. Anyone can create a page to support an organization.

I encourage you to check it out whether you are a nonprofit or an individual wanting to show support for a particular cause. To see what it looks like, you can visit our Razoo page directly from Razoo or from the "Donate Now" button on our web site.