With donations down, local charities find new ways to raise money
20 August 2012
Answer the call: Guide plugs ideas for giving
Businesses showcase their philanthropy in different ways.
Some choose volunteerism. Others host or participate in fundraisers. Many make direct monetary donations.
No matter which way they give, businesses’ contributions play an important role in the community.
Accompanying this week’s print edition of VEGAS INC is our annual Giving Guide. This is the fifth consecutive year we’ve produced it, and it is one of our most popular and used special publications.
Companies look to it to find nonprofit groups that might be a good fit for help from employees. Teachers have used it in their classrooms for student projects. Undoubtedly, it has been used in other ways that we never hear about.
In the Giving Guide, you’ll find Southern Nevada businesses sponsoring local charities. The profiles of these nonprofits illustrate their mission, goals and service areas, as well as fundraising, volunteering and giving opportunities. The nonprofits identify areas where they need support, and it’s our role as a community to answer the call.
In addition to the profile pages, you will find our annual Angel Award selections. We honor various organizations, businesses and individuals for their philanthropic work. They are making a difference in the charitable landscape of our community, and we want to applaud them.
Here are the 2012 Angel Award honorees:
St. Jude’s Ranch for Children, Nonprofit of the Year
St. Jude’s Ranch for Children, founded in 1967, is a local group that serves the needs of abused, abandoned and neglected children and families.
CEO Christine Spadafor took over in 2006 and turned around the organization, which was on the verge of bankruptcy. St. Jude’s also recently opened a new Crossing Program, which is a supportive housing program for homeless 18- to 25-year-olds.
NV Energy, Public Philanthropic Business of the Year
In 2011, the utility and its foundation donated $5.3 million to local charities and nonprofits. Its employees also provided 30,000 volunteer hours to the community.
CEO Michael Yackira spearheads the company’s involvement with charitable causes.
Gold and Silver Pawn, Private Philanthropic Business of the Year
Since the “Pawn Stars” team became famous with their History Channel reality show, they have shared their good fortune with Southern Nevadans in need. Cast members Richard, Rick and Corey Harrison, along with Austin “Chumlee” Russell, have made numerous large donations to local groups. They’re also involved with the Make-A-Wish Foundation and several other nonprofit organizations.
Cure 4 the Kids Foundation, Organization of the Year
This group, headed by executive director Annette Logan, helps children reclaim their lives from diseases such as leukemia, lupus and hemophilia. The organization funds two key programs: the Children’s Specialty Center of Nevada and the Hemophilia Treatment Center of Nevada. Since 2006, the Children’s Specialty Center has treated more than 8,000 patients.
Fred Schultz, Humanitarian of the Year
As founder and CEO of the Foundation for Positively Kids, Schultz oversees a nonprofit that provides early intervention services, skilled pediatric nursing services, respite and pediatric day care to medically-fragile and terminally-ill children. Since its inception in 1999, the foundation has helped more than 8,000 children and their families.
Next month, it will break ground on the state’s first 24-hour, skilled pediatric facility.
Joshua Abbey, Cultural Advocate of the Year
Abbey has been a driving force behind the Las Vegas Jewish Film Festival, Southern Nevada’s longest-running art film series. Heading into its 12th year, the festival offers members of the Jewish community a chance to rediscover their identity. It also motivates people to participate in the city’s vibrant Jewish life, Abbey said.
This year’s event, held in January, attracted more than 2,000 people.
John Pennington and Andrea Dempsey, Co-Volunteers of the Year
Pennington, 71, has volunteered with the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children’s Open golf event for more than 15 years, serving as chairman of its transportation committee. He helps ensure that the more than 400 local children who require treatment in Los Angeles are able to make the trip without the stress or obligation of worrying about how to pay for it.
Dempsey, a cage manager at Arizona Charlie’s Boulder Hotel and Casino, donates her time to the Miracle League of Las Vegas, Three Square Food Bank, the American Lung Association, DJs for PJs, Special Olympics, Baby’s Bounty, the Boys and Girls Club of Henderson, Best Buddies and Will Beckley Elementary School. She often brings her husband and daughter along to pitch in, as well.
— Rob Langrell, special publications editor
Las Vegas is known around the world as a place to splurge and spend big.
Locals, however, don’t have the same reputation when it comes to charitable giving.
Nevada ranks low nationally for philanthropy. Charitable donations plunged here in recent years, faster than in many other states.
The state used to be a leader in giving, but the down economy forced many donors to tighten their wallets.
Nevertheless, nonprofit groups say they have found other ways to support their operations, and community leaders remain optimistic that people’s giving spirit will return. Many in the nonprofit community point to the recent opening of the Smith Center for the Performing Arts as a sign that the region is starting to, once again, get better at giving.
It’s unclear exactly how much money people in Las Vegas and Nevada donate to charity each year. The Internal Revenue Service compiles that data based on people’s tax returns, but not everyone who gives claims deductions.
Still, according to the data that is available, Nevada used to be one of the most philanthropic states.
Residents claimed an average of $1,373 in charitable contributions in 2004, making the state the 9th best nationally for charitable giving, according to IRS data compiled by the Urban Institute’s National Center for Charitable Statistics. The District of Columbia topped the list with an average of $2,388 in donations, followed by Utah, Maryland, New York, Connecticut, Georgia, California and Virginia.
By 2009, however, Nevada fell to 37th for philanthropy. Residents’ average contribution dropped to $913 — a 34 percent slide, the worst in the nation during that time.
Nevadans’ average income, on the other hand, fell by only 6 percent during that period. Income levels dropped from $57,684 in 2004 (the 7th best in the country) to $54,319 in 2009 (the 18th best.)
Why, then, did charitable giving drop so sharply?
Wealthier Las Vegans — the same people who typically gave large amounts to nonprofits — were hit harder here than in other regions, according to former UNLV president Carol Harter, who helped lead the school’s $500 million “Invent the Future” fundraising campaign. (That effort reached its goal in 2009, about a year behind schedule.)
“A lot of donors simply deferred or cut in half what they said they’d do,” she said.
During the boom years, charitable donations were strong because the local economy was roaring with new development — shopping centers, housing, casinos and other projects. While raising money for charity is never hassle-free, it was easier during flush times when locals weren’t worried about their finances, said Keith Resnick, president of The Lili Claire Foundation, a Las Vegas nonprofit group that runs medical clinics for children with autism, Down syndrome and other conditions.
As the economy plunged, Las Vegans saw their earnings and holdings evaporate. Because the valley’s economy lacks diversity, most people struck it rich in just a few areas, such as housing, commercial property and gaming. Those were the same sectors hardest hit.
“The wealth came quickly, and the wealth left quickly,” Resnick said.
AnnaMarie Johnson knows first-hand what nonprofit groups are going through. The executive director of Nevada Legal Services said donations to the Las Vegas-based legal aid group are down. That includes contributions from government agencies, the organization’s main source of funding.
Because of the drop in aid, the group closed its Carson City office in January and laid off four workers, bringing its total employee count to 41.
Donations for individuals also have shown “a pretty steady decline,” Johnson said. When she speaks with prospective donors, they tell her their own businesses are faring poorly.
They say they “just can’t give the way that they used to,” she said.
So Johnson’s group, which provides legal counsel to low-income Nevadans, tried something new in March. It held an office supplies drive. The group asked law firms in Southern Nevada and Reno to donate office supplies, which usually comprise about 5 percent of the organization’s budget.
The initiative helped cut the group’s bill in half, Johnson said. One firm in Reno showed up with a truck-bed full of printer paper, three-ringed binders, file folders and other items.
“We had a great response,” Johnson said.
Likewise, nonprofits have had to get creative to fill gaps created by the drop in charitable giving.
The Lili Claire Foundation has failed to reach its annual budget goal for about five years. The shortfall has led to a very long waiting list of children who need to be seen, Resnick said.
The group used to court donors through direct mail, social events and an annual gala dinner. It recently responded to the contraction in giving by organizing a new type of fundraiser: a fair called "Nevada Wild Fest.”
This year’s event will be held Oct. 25-28 at the Rio and will include a haunted maze, carnival rides and thrill rides.
Tickets cost up to $9 — a far cry from the $10,000 Resnick collected for a table of 10 at a gala dinner. Nevertheless, the fair helps make the foundation more visible, and the money it generates funds programs, Resnick said. Revenue accounts for about 85 percent of the Lili Claire Foundation’s annual budget.
“We’re generating enough funding to keep our doors open,” he said.
Meanwhile, the March opening of the $470 million Smith Center downtown is providing hope for those in the nonprofit community. Las Vegas often is labeled as a city that’s not philanthropic, but the Smith Center was built during the height of the recession, said Julie Murray, president and CEO of Moonridge Group, a Las Vegas consulting firm that works with foundations.
And while those involved in local fundraising and charity say they realize people will likely take years to ramp up giving to the levels seen during the boom, they note that the Smith Center could help usher more donations into the region and serve as a reminder that, even in the worst of times, Las Vegans still donate their time and money to good causes.
Said Murray: “I hope that we as a community will start to get recognized as a community with heart.”
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