Too many non-profits prefer shiny new buildings to sharing facilities with peers

NON-PROFITS INC

September 28, 1992|By LESTER A.PICKER

The head of the contributions committee of the Wilmington, Del., manufacturing plant for a Fortune 100 company showed me the letter, already marked in red by the chief executive. A local non-profit was requesting funds for a capital campaign, one of dozens of requests that comes across his desk each year.

The problem: The request was several times the plant's entire annual contribution budget.

"It's not the size of the request," my colleague said in disgust. "We checked it out and there are at least 22 ongoing or planned capital campaigns in Wilmington. We just don't understand why every non-profit has to have its own building."

Neither do I.

With the financial stresses and strains on non-profits -- which are likely to continue for quite a few years -- non-profits need to explore innovative ways to lower overhead costs and operating expenses.

"Non-profits need to change their thinking on how they do business," says Richard Hug, chairman of the board of Environmental Elements Corp. and a respected Baltimore fund-raiser and community activist. "One of the areas is reducing overhead and sharing costs among several agencies . . . things like secretarial support, accounting, building maintenance. There needs to be some new and creative thinking."

Joint capital campaigns have been around for years. It's just thatthey aren't touted.

Take Health Care for the Homeless, for example. It just completed a successful joint capital campaign with People Aiding Travelers and the Homeless (PATH). "It's like one-stop shopping," says Jacquelyn Gaines, executive director of Health Care. "We provide the health care, while PATH handles case management, housing relocation, employment programs and other services."

Ms. Gaines reports that the agencies also share receptionists, security and janitorial services.

"The savings are enormous and we're able to serve our clients better, too," she says. "Plus, we rent out some space to an organization thatprovides legal help to the homeless. That means some income, as well as an opportunity to provide more services."

Why don't more non-profits explore joint campaigns? Many believe a new building can boost visibility, increase market share and show donors that a wide swath of the community supports them. Capital campaigns, any professional will tell you, are much more than mere buildings.

Professional fund-raiser Marty Moore believes that, due to the marketing boost a capital campaign brings, non-profits may have to feel more financial pressure before they consider joint campaigns. Mr. Moore, principal of Gryphon Associates in Annapolis, adds, "Boards could take a leadership role and demand these kinds of [financial] reviews."

Norm Taylor, executive director of United Way of Central Maryland, believes the idea of combined capital campaigns merits consideration. "You could have a multiservice center, where several non-profit organizations are all under one roof, so clients just have to visit one building and get many of their social service needs met."

Sounds like a good idea to me, too.

(Les Picker is a philanthropy consultant. Write to him at 7 Bathon Circle, Elkton, Md. 21921, or call [410] 392-3160.)

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