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GOING GETS TOUGH, GROUPS GET CREATIVE

We've all heard it. Demand up, budget cut.

Tough times, tough choices. More with less.

Nonprofits, like just about every other category of business you can name, are reinventing themselves - at least that's what I found while preparing the third annual City Times society section. The goal, of course, is to give readers a glimpse of the season to come.

This year, "the mantra is creativity,'' says Grace Armstrong, CEO of the Nonprofit Leadership Center of Tampa Bay. "What worked in the past will not necessarily work in the future."

The buzzword du jour: social enterprise. That is, business ventures that make a profit and help further the groups' goals. Creating or expanding a related enterprise can bring jobs, skills and additional funds to the organization.

"We're all having to do the same with less,'' says Armstrong. "Everybody's looking for a new approach to mission-related revenue."

One flourishing example is DACCO's community cafe. In March the drug and substance abuse treatment center on Columbus Drive began selling breakfast and lunch to staff, clients and the general public five days a week. Business is good, they say. HARTline employees come for the daily specials.

"Clients are actually working in culinary and food service preparation to offset the costs of treatment," says Tricia Pierce, director of contracts and development.

Catering services are coming next. Other agencies will be able to meet in DACCO's training center for free with a catering contract.

Pierce is also adapting DACCO's annual Thieves Auction, known for selling confiscated jewelry, electronics and unclaimed stolen items. Her plan is to sell large donated items on eBay, "like a boat or a piano,'' she says. "No overhead, 100 percent profit."

Another potential moneymaker is SHARE Express, just launched by SHARE Florida Food Network. By expanding delivery service in high-need neighborhoods, they will sell more affordable meat and produce packets. More sales, more people served, it's a win-win.

At a recent community calendar breakfast, social service providers compared strategies for surviving the economic crisis. But doom and gloom were not invited to Saks Fifth Avenue that recent morning. Fashion consultant Linda Zipkin organized the "show and tell" among the couture racks for 40-plus nonprofits to tout an event-full season.

New attempts include Mad Hatter parties in tandem with tickets to the Wonderland premiere at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center.

Perennials such as Zoofari and Einstein on Wine return to fill Lowry Park Zoo and the Museum of Science and Industry with supporters.

To help you "Save the Date," check out our Social Calendar (Page 9) for more than 100 fundraisers - wine tastings, fashion shows, galas and more. Of course, many others are in the pipeline, and we'll let you know about them as details are finalized. Perhaps you'll find a compelling cause and choose to get involved. (Please save this link for updates throughout the year: tampabay.com/writers/amy-scherzer.

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I know a secret and I'm not telling until Nov. 18. That's when the Suncoast Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals will announce its annual philanthropy awards. It was gratifying to help judge the nominees this month and single out the 2009 Philanthropists of the Year for monumental contributions to the arts, health and education.

You might not be in that league, but your connections are no less vital. I wish I could name all the people, not just volunteers, staff and board members, but florists, caterers, photographers, waiters, bartenders and valets who are crucial to a successful fundraiser. There's never a time I don't marvel at how generous people are with time and resources.

Whether do-er or donor, you're making a difference.

Amy Scherzer can be reached at (813) 226-3332 or ascherzer@sptimes.com.

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