Small nonprofits weather the storm
An economic downturn is a tough time to ask for donations, yet a sampling of small nonprofit organizations last week revealed that in general Martha's Vineyard continues to be generous. Long-term supporters continue to be there for their favorite causes, and while some have had to reduce their contributions, others have in some cases tried to give more. Almost all the nonprofits The Times talked with have end-of-the-year fundraising appeals scheduled for November or December, and the results of those campaigns will say even more about the effects of the current recession than the galas and auctions of the summer just ended.
Hope Callen, administrative director of Sail Martha's Vineyard, told The Times that her organization is holding its own. "Our loyal supporters are still with us and supporting us," she said. Proceeds from the Seafood Buffet and Auction held on July 11 were down a bit, but the Vineyard Cup event, held the next week, made up the difference.
At Featherstone Center for the Arts, director Francine Kelly reported that revenues are actually up a bit, partly because she scheduled more activities which generate income - more concerts and classes, for example. Vendors at the weekly flea markets increased from 60 to 80, and the overall summer intake was better than last year's. Last fall's annual appeal was up a bit from the previous year, despite the dire economic news, and Ms. Kelly is hopeful about this year's November campaign. Featherstone anticipates no reduction in its programs.
At the Martha's Vineyard Museum, Amy Houghton reports that the situation is "better than expected." In anticipation of reduced income, the museum last fall curtailed library hours and laid off an assistant librarian. The museum cut back on advertising and reduced some of the amenities at special events. It turned out that predictions were correct and overall revenues were down last winter. However, the picture is not at all bleak. Over the summer, attendance, gift shop sales, and new memberships were all up. Contributions were down a bit, but only because a significant large gift last year was one-time-only and not expected to be repeated. Even though the big-ticket items at the annual auction were off, resulting in a lower net return for the museum, sales in other categories were brisk. The museum cut no programs (other than reducing the library hours), and new grants actually allowed the museum to expand its offerings.
Women Empowered helps girls and women (and some men, too) with problem-solving, decision-making, and coping skills, as well as job searches and personal finances. Women Empowered runs no summer fundraising events. Although last fall's annual campaign went well, Sheila Bracy, has her fingers crossed about this one. "We hope everyone is as generous as they were last year," she told The Times. Ms. Bracy credits volunteers for making up for any revenue shortfall caused by the recession, and Women Empowered continues to provide all its services.
Volunteers are also key at Hospice of Martha's Vineyard, where this year's revenues are down about $5,000 from last year at this time, a small but significant drop for Hospice, but less than might be expected in a recession. However, executive director Terry Young is more pessimistic than most whom The Times talked with. She feels that most of Hospice's support comes from middle-class donors, many of whom have seen friends and relatives benefit from Hospice. If, as she thinks, the recession will hit the Vineyard's middle class the hardest, Hospice may need to turn to wealthy donors to make up the difference this winter.
At the FARM Institute, director Rob Goldfarb reported that FARM's campaign last fall was down 60 percent from the previous year. FARM has cut no programs, and there were no layoffs, though the staff voluntarily took a 10 percent pay cut. However, this summer's activities, such as Meals-in-the-Meadow, went very well, and sponsorships are up. Mr. Goldfarb is engaged in a long-range plan to diversify FARM's income stream, without which the institute would eventually use up its endowment and have to close, recession or no recession. He reports increased collaborations with for-profit organizations and other nonprofits, such as the Eisenhauer Gallery, Scoops, the Youth Hostel, and Artfarm (new last summer). He hopes to find more collaborations. "Not 'How can you help FARM?' but 'How can we help each other?'" he explained.
Mr. Goldfarb also stressed volunteerism, donating time or "in kind" as well as money. The long-range diversification plan also includes new tuition programs for off-Island students and increased sales of meat and farm produce.
The FARM institute did drop a position this year, but Mr. Goldfarb reports that it was a part of changes in the strategic plan, not a result of the economic downturn. A new position will be created more in line with long-range goals.
The Permanent Endowment Fund for Martha's Vineyard is a place to look for economic indicators. According to executive director Ralinda Lurie, the PEF was hurt less than other similar funds off-Island. Despite a worrisome fall, when pledges were not unexpectedly down, donations for 2008 were up over the previous year. While contributions to the unrestricted funds were down, the overall number of donors almost doubled, and the dollar total was up 24 percent.