THE BENEFITS OF BLING: Samaritans of Rhode Island Executive Director Denise Panichas helps employee Nicole Coggins arrange bracelets in the nonprofit’s art gallery and gift shop.
PBN PHOTO/DAVID LEVESQUE
By Jenn Salcido PBN Staff Writer
As today’s economic climate continues to be an uphill battle for many, local nonprofits are finding that freshening up fundraising initiatives is imperative. While the typical mainstays of fundraising, such as direct mail campaigns, are unlikely to disappear, some local nonprofits are thinking beyond the postcard and seeing positive results.
For the Samaritans of Rhode Island, a suicide-prevention resource, one such out-of-the-box approach has brought the group out into the community in the form of an art gallery and gift-shop space. Opened in December 2011, the Forget-Me-Not Fine Art Gallery and gift shop stands at the historic Baker-Hanley House in Pawtucket. The gallery features fine art, while the gift shop is home to Alex and Ani jewelry, among other locally produced wares, creating new revenue streams in rental fees, sales from the gift shop and gallery and commission and fees paid by the artists who exhibit there.
Executive Director Denise Panichas, who secured the space courtesy of the Preservation Society of Pawtucket, explains the purpose of the space as three-fold: to get revenue from rentals and sales; to provide exposure for local artists; and most important, it provides another platform for awareness about a crucial mission. Panichas estimates that by year’s end, the gallery, which is entirely staffed by volunteers, will have seen 1,000 unique visitors. According to Panichas, the awareness that the gallery creates allows her to expand her volunteer base as well as offer another entrée for the community into the importance of suicide prevention.
The importance of awareness is paramount also for Cindy Elder, spokesperson for the Rhode Island Community Food Bank. “Awareness-raising is a foundation for all of our fundraising and food-drive efforts. … It’s our job to help people understand why they should choose to use their charitable dollars to make sure that no one in Rhode Island goes hungry,” said Elder.
Apart from creating awareness, of course, the food bank still relies on monetary donations. To increase and invigorate the donor pool, it has recently engaged in a partnership with Buffalo-based City Dining Cards, whereby the food bank gets a cut of each deck of discount cards sold.
While the program is too new to report results just yet, Elder is excited about the implications: “It’s fun and different. I think it’s our responsibility to break through the clutter with information and messages and ideas that will resonate.”
Amos House, which focuses on outreach to the hungry, homeless and poor, has looked to self-sustaining businesses as well as creative fundraisers as part of its fundraising model, explained Jessica Salter, director of development. The organization counts among its employment-focused businesses a café, a catering company and a baked-goods line featured in major local markets. Salter noted that the businesses offer employment to as many as 25-30 people at a time. What’s more, these businesses cover more than 85 percent of their own cost, which makes the programs highly sustainable training and employment enterprises.
Salter said that Amos House is also shaking up its traditional run/walk fundraiser when it brings the Get Gored for Good event to downtown Providence in April 2013. In partnership with the Providence Roller Derby, the event bills itself as “the Providence Running of the Bulls,” in which costumed and horned-helmeted “Rollerbulls” will accompany participants through the streets of Providence, marking them by wielding red paintbrushes. The event winds up in a block party at Burnside Park. “It’s going to be a lot of fun, and anyone can take part,” said Salter, who explained that participants are encouraged to fundraise beyond the $35 entry fee.
Anthony Maione, president and CEO of the United Way of Rhode Island, said that his organization, like Amos House, does see significant revenue come from less traditional efforts.
The Young Leader’s Circle and the Women’s Leadership Council are both membership arms of the United Way, and both are instrumental not only in amassing volunteer numbers but dollars as well. “All the research shows that if you volunteer, you give. This is playing out with [these groups],” said Maione.
The Young Leader’s Circle, which charges no fee to its members, boasts 697 members and last year raised $47,000. While that may not seem like much, said Maione, the program has only been existence for three years, and it ensures that the young professionals of today are engaged and primed for when they become the leaders of tomorrow.
By contrast, the Women’s Leadership Council is an organization that requires a $1,000 fee to participate, and is made up of 91 women, at present. The group has only been in existence for a year, but wields considerable fundraising prowess. Maione explained that the group operates independently, with its own board, but works in concert with the United Way. Last year, the group raised $343,000 in support of children’s literacy – $91,000 of which was new money.
“It’s absolutely on fire,” said Maione. “When you give people ways to be engaged personally that they can get excited about, they give money, but they give a lot more than money.” •