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Charities trim fundraising events to reflect economic reality

ST. PETERSBURG — On the social calendar, the hint of cool weather promises a whirl of galas, banquets and soirees that raise money for a good cause.

But with an uncertain economy prompting corporations and individuals to be more discerning in their giving, some organizations are rethinking expenditures on lavish fundraisers, donor appreciation gatherings and expensive mailings.

In St. Petersburg, All Children's Hospital Foundation announced it will not hold its annual Society Banquet this year.

"Our decision to do this was based upon the many comments we have received urging us to be the best stewards of the funds donated for the care of those we serve,'' a letter said.

Instead of the annual event, the thank-you banquet for donors that costs the foundation $100 a head for about 300 attendees will now be held every other year.

"I think donors really want greater accountability for their gifts,'' said Thomas Mundell, the foundation's executive vice president. "That's why we continually look at ways we can save money."

He said donors have sent notes supporting the decision.

That's not surprising to Sandra Miniutti, vice president of marketing for Charity Navigator, which evaluates charities.

"In recent years, donors have become more aware just how costly special events can be and just how little of their money ends up benefiting the charity's mission after expenses,'' she said.

"And I believe donors and board members are putting more pressure on charities to improve the efficiency of their fundraising events or drop them altogether.''

The All Children's foundation isn't the only charity making adjustments.

In Tampa, the Muscular Dystrophy Association canceled its fall gala. WEDU, a public TV station, put its Sojourn gala on hold. Big Cat Rescue, a sanctuary for unwanted, abandoned or abused exotic big cats, called off its tribal Fur Ball and replaced it with a Phantom Fur Ball, a non-event that encouraged supporters to make online donations.

"In these economic times, when doing fundraisers, people should be more cost-conscious and creative,'' said Shirley O'Sullivan, who has helped plan many such events.

"I will not work for people who spend a lot of money on an event. Expensive invitations, expensive food, expensive decorations. I find all that to be a total waste.''

The Junior League of St. Petersburg has resurrected its Whale of a Sale, a popular rummage sale last held in 2000.

"We feel that now, more than ever, there are so many people that are hurting in our community and that everyone is looking for a little bit of economic relief,'' said Donna Mainguth, the organization's president.

"We've had wonderful galas in the past, we've partnered with other organizations, but this is more of a direct link to the community."

The YMCA of Greater St. Petersburg also rethought its strategy a few years ago and brought back its Businesses Building a Better Community Luncheon after a one-year hiatus. Though an important fundraiser, the organization slashed the $1,000 price for a table of eight in half.

"Smart charities are constantly evaluating their special events and their approach to thanking donors,'' Miniutti said.

"They want to ensure that the events really offer a return on their investment — which isn't just actual dollars, but also a significant amount of staff time needed to pull off these fancy galas. And the return of investment for charities isn't just about the actual dollars on the night of the event.

"These events also help the charity build awareness of its mission and brand. And it helps connect the charity to new potential donors."

Times staff writers Amy Scherzer and Mary Jane Park contributed to this article. Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at wmoore@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2283.

Charities trim fundraising events to reflect economic reality 11/11/11 [Last modified: Friday, November 11, 2011 10:41pm]
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