Charities and Donors and Fundraising and Philanthropy

Charities struggle to cultivate donors

January 22, 2007

As Hollywood's biggest stars stroll down the red carpet Feb. 25 on the way into the Academy Awards, some of Indianapolis' own will have the chance to dress up and strut their stuff in front of the cameras, too--albeit at the Indiana State Museum's Imax theater, rather than at Los Angeles' Kodak Theatre.

The "Evening at the Oscars" event, one of a handful of officially sanctioned Oscar-viewing events nationwide, is a fund-raiser for United Way of Central Indiana.

Up to 400 people--the Imax theater's capacity--will pay $75 per ticket for the privilege of walking the red carpet in front of "reporters" and "paparazzi," bid on items at a silent auction, and watch the Oscar telecast on Imax's big screen.

The fund-raiser is also a debut of sorts for its planners, a recently formed group of young UWCI donors who are leading the charge to get more of their generation involved in philanthropic causes.

Attracting people under 40 with money to give is one of the latest challenges faced by not-for-profit organizations. As fund-raisers look toward cultivating the next generation of supporters, they see a younger generation that appears less inclined to do so.

In a 2003 study, researchers at the IUPUI-based Center of Philanthropy at Indiana University found that members of Generation X--those born after 1965--gave less money as a percentage of their income than either baby boomers or the pre-World War II generation. The results held true even when adjusted for differences in overall wealth among the generations.

"We know people in that younger generation are not giving as much as their parents did in the '70s," said Melissa Brown, associate director of research at the IUPUI-based Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University. "But we don't know why."

Theories abound

New research is focusing on finding out the "why." There are several theories, all as yet untested, Brown said. One is that younger people, bombarded with messages about rising health care, college and retirement costs, feel less financially secure and therefore more inclined to stockpile money for their own use later rather than give it away.

Another is that young people are waiting longer for marriage, she said. Marriage has long been associated with increased levels of giving.

Regardless of the reasons, a greater number of young people today don't have a strong connection to one or more charities, leaving not-for-profits searching for ways to make that link. And because of technology and new ways of communicating, the old ways to connect with donors might not work anymore, Brown said.

That's where not-for-profit organizations are picking up the charge. United Way of Central Indiana is the latest United Way chapter, and one of a growing number of local not-for-profits, striving to reach out to donors under age 40.

By doing so, organizations are not only attempting to cultivate their future base of donors and board members, but also hoping to reach out to a generation that apparently hasn't gotten the philanthropic message.

The charity's Emerging Leaders program, started in 2006, will have 100 to 150 members when the organization's current fund drive ends in February, said Angela Dabney, UWCI's senior vice president for resource development.

Members of the program are under 40, give at least $1,000 to United Way annually, and agree to volunteer their time, either at agencies or on United Way committees.

"Younger people do have a desire to get involved and to contribute in meaningful ways," Dabney said. "But often they're not recruited in a way that's meaningful to them."

The Emerging Leaders group is attempting to lure them through special programs, such as a "Lunch and Learn" series featuring prominent local CEOs speaking about the connection between business and philanthropy.

The group also is planning fund-raisers, such as Evening at the Oscars and an upcoming Indianapolis Ice hockey game, designed to draw volunteers and donors of all ages to United Way.

At a recent Emerging Leaders luncheon, about 50 guests from a variety of companies listened to Walker Information CEO Steve Walker talk about the substantial benefits, personal and professional, that come from philanthropy. Through networking, increased opportunities and personal enrichment, Walker espoused the adage, "You'll get more than you give."

Walker, 49, credits his family for getting him involved in not-for-profits, but for those without such influences, companies are well-positioned to fill in by encouraging volunteerism, he said. Once people are spurred to take action, they realize the benefits of philanthropy, he said.

"I had to believe it myself through my own experiences--it is a leap of faith," said Walker, who called serving as chairman of United Way's annual fund drive "the most rewarding professional thing that I've done."

By making connections between younger donors and philanthropic stalwarts like Walker, UWCI hopes the Emerging Leaders program, and the money it raises, will continue to grow, Dabney said. Its first fund-raiser has a goal of raising $40,000 through ticket sales and silent auction bids, and Dabney said she hopes the group will have hundreds of members in the coming years.

Reaching out

Around the city, other organizations are courting younger donors with varying degrees of formality.

The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra recently started the Forte group to cultivate future audiences, leaders and donors. Like United Way, ISO plucked the initial members from the employee rosters of organizations who already supported the organization.

Anyone can join Forte, which comes with invitations to events such as ISO's Happy Hour concert series. But members of its 12-person leadership committee agree to donate $750 annually. The president of the Forte leadership committee also sits on ISO's board.

"[Forte] is more about an education on the importance of giving and fostering people to take more leadership roles, but at a financial level more comfortable for somebody in that generation," said Ana Papakhian, ISO's director of public relations.

UWCI and ISO both say their young-leader groups are too young for the organizations to be able to fully measure their effect on the groups' bottom line. At the Indianapolis Museum of Art, young-donor initiatives are being revived after its Young Friends of Art program was discontinued a few years ago.

"The program was spending a lot more money than it raised," said Leann Standish, IMA's director of development and communications. "We didn't do a good job of cultivating donors."

Now, IMA is reaching out partly through its Sustaining Fellows program, Standish said. The membership level, which requires a $1,500 minimum donation, will continue to offer programming for donors of all ages, but IMA is just beginning to focus some of it on the interests of younger professionals, such as those looking to collect art.

The museum also plans to revive Thursday and Friday evening concerts, lectures and receptions, beginning next month. When Friends of Art hosted monthly Friday-evening gatherings, they were popular social events. At the recently expanded IMA, the museum hopes they will be educational events as well that spark the minds of future donors and board members.

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