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Charity, community groups cut back on flashy fundraisers

The party isn't over, but it certainly has slowed for the glittering galas and corporate-sponsored lunches that fuel the local fundraising circuit.

The St. Petersburg NAACP announced this week that it is postponing the organization's annual Freedom Fund Banquet scheduled for May 23 at Tropicana Field.

In Tampa, the Hillsborough NAACP delayed its semiformal fundraiser at Higgins Hall by three months. To boost participation in the May 22 event, it slashed ticket prices from $100 to $50 and table sponsorships from $800 to $400. Still, reaction has been tepid.

"Ticket sales are so-so," said Pat Spencer, the event chairwoman. "We still have some open tables."

The local NAACP groups are just two of a growing number of organizations forced to adjust their fundraising efforts because of the sluggish economy.

The YMCA of Greater St. Petersburg canceled its annual spring luncheon after organizers began hearing that $1,000 table sponsorships were not going to be an option for many of its corporate partners. The Businesses Building a Better Community luncheon was planned for April at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club.

The YMCA decided instead to focus on raising money for its Strong Kids campaign, which funds a variety of children's programs. "It was a better way of using our resources," said Ashley Zarle, marketing and communications director for the YMCA.

The Florida Blood Services Foundation also decided to pull the plug on its 2009 Gift of Life Gala planned for A la Carte Event Pavilion in Tampa.

"I just made a decision that the economy was heading in a direction that was dangerous as far as people supporting events such as galas," said Jane Riley Leach, president of the FBS Foundation. "I felt that there were other avenues that we could take and make as much money with less expense."

Other organizations simply adjusted their plans. Easter Seals, after exploring whether to hold a first ever Jelly Bean Ball, decided this was not the year to launch.

"We are seeing reports that this year especially, that charities are moving away from the more grandiose events," said Sandra Miniutti, vice president of marketing for Charity Navigator, a national group that evaluates charities.

"They're finding it hard to identify patrons that can afford expensive tickets, and I think there's also a little bit of a backlash in society against wealth," she said. "You saw it with AIG, with the public's demand for bonus money to be returned. I just think that there are some wealthy donors … not necessarily interested in being seen attending a lavish gala."

Groups that do decide to go ahead with their events are putting on more understated affairs, she said. No more fancy ice sculptures, multi-course dinners and over-the-top auctions.

"Another factor in this is corporate sponsorship. … It's hard to justify spending several thousand dollars on a table," she said

Announcing the postponement of this month's banquet, the St. Petersburg NAACP said it was "cognizant of the financial constraints that have engulfed every aspect of our community."

Still, NAACP branch president Ray Tampa said that while sponsorships had been slow to come in, the anemic economy was only partly to blame.

He said the event is normally held in June, but was changed to May because of availability at the Trop. Organizers didn't have enough time to plan, he said.

"Based on the historic importance of the year, and based on the importance of our fundraising needs, we felt that the wise thing to do was to postpone it," he said.

A new date has not been set.

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

Charity, community groups cut back on flashy fundraisers 05/08/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 19, 2009 2:06pm]
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