Nonprofits vie for funding in a generous – but relatively small – region

The Grand Traverse region has earned a reputation for donating to worthy causes. From education to conservation, the arts to healthcare, people step up.

“It’s a uniquely philanthropic community,” said Rebecca Teahen, the associate vice president for resource development at Northwestern Michigan College and the executive director of the NMC Foundation.

“People are extra generous to many great causes,” echoed John Bogley, the vice president for philanthropy at Interlochen Center for the Arts.

But how does giving to one impact another? Do large-scale campaigns affect regular ongoing giving? Where do businesses and corporations fit in?

It all depends on the organization, its mission and how far afield the organization is willing to go for donations.

“It’s up to us to tell our stories,” said Bogley of the many different non-profits vying for donor dollars. He acknowledged that campaigns run by other organizations can impact the availability of philanthropic support for Interlochen, just as donors’ contributions to ICA may impact the availability of support for other causes.

At Interlochen, Bogley can reach out to arts supporters, professionals and philanthropists from across the region and across the world. Its six-year “Create Amazing” campaign brought in $134.8 million, above and beyond its initial goal of $100 million. All told, Create Amazing received funding from more than 18,000 donors from 54 countries, 49 states and Washington, D.C.

It’s not the only institution capable of raising such a significant amount of money. Munson Healthcare Foundations recently launched “The Next Chapter” campaign. The goal is to raise $36 million; so far, it has raised $34.5 million.

Among the goals for the funds raised are:

  • Constructing a new Family Birth and Children’s Center consisting of a neonatal intensive care unit as well as maternity and pediatrics units
  • Expanding cardiovascular services and surgical services
  • Growing regional cancer care
  • Enhancing services in the areas of patient needs and community health
  • Updating Munson Manor Hospitality House

Des Worthington, the chief development officer for Munson Healthcare, said funding for Munson’s various entities comes from three areas: operations, debt/bond and philanthropy. Donors often focus on one specific area they want to see their money used in, such as the Family Birth and Children’s Center. Worthington said cost for that will be $36 million, of which the philanthropic portion is $10 million. Thus far Munson has raised $8 million.

Photo of the Marine Tech program at NMC.

Another large-scale ongoing funding endeavor is “Be What’s Possible: The Campaign for NMC” at Northwestern Michigan College. The drive has a goal of $35 million; thus far, it has raised more than $28 million. It will support the creation and renovation of facilities, including West Hall Innovation Center; scholarships; endowed positions, curriculum development, and the installation of the latest equipment; and The Fund for NMC, unrestricted funding with flexibility to be allocated as needed.

At the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy, the “Campaign for Generations” is a six-year, $71.4 million campaign encompassing multiple projects. The Upper Manistee Headwaters: The Milock Preserve, Lower Woodcock Lake in Benzie County, Torch River Nature Preserve, Schuler Farm Conservation Easement, the Gorge Nature Preserve, and Wintergreen Woods Nature Preserve are among those being funded by the campaign.

“Our goal was to raise half before we went public,” said Jennifer Jay, the director of communications and engagement.

The organization did better than that – it went public in August 2018 and has now raised $68 million toward the goal.

“We know that last part will be the hardest to raise,” she said.

Mitchell Creek Meadows off of Three Mile Road.

More than 4,500 households donated more than $16,000. Of those, 1,500 are new donors. Among the largest donors are the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation with $5 million, The Carls Foundation with $3 million, The Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation at $2 million and Casey and Dana Cowell with $1 million. Jay said the organization also received a $5 million anonymous donation, the largest non-foundation grant in its history. Don and Jerry Oleson donated $1.1 million to purchase Mitchell Creek Meadows.

Some institutions bring in donations that are then directed to other entities, such as the Grand Traverse Regional Community Foundation and the United Way.

“Last year we got $4.5 million in gifts,” said GTRCF Executive Director Dave Mengebier.

He said that was a high water mark and doesn’t anticipate this year will reach or surpass that.

Mengebier said grants go to organizations in arts and culture, education, environment, health and human services, and youth. This year, the Community Foundation awarded more than $272,000 in scholarships to 194 recipients. He said the typical donor is older, doesn’t have to worry about paying for a child to go to college, has had successful career, and has more free time to engage in philanthropic efforts.

So far this year, it has awarded $2 million in grants and scholarships, which Mengebier said is comparable to last year at this time.

“Our annual grant award amount is relatively stable because we are primarily an endowment organization, which means we have sustainable, lasting resources with which to benefit the community,” he said.

The United Way uses a different model to reach its donors.

“So much of what we do is workplace-based,” said Ranae McCauley, the executive director. By working directly with employers, individuals can donate a portion of their income on a regular basis, rather than writing a large check. She said the organization works with more than 120 business and more than 1000 individual donors. The average donation is $280.

Among its signature projects are commissioning the ALICE report (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) to inform policy and decision-making for low-income families in the region; commissioning and instituting the 211 service, a three-digit number that can be used to access the helping network of services for urgent needs; Tuesday Toolmen, volunteers who provide home repairs for people with medical needs to help them stay in their homes or return to their homes safely; Day of Caring events four times per year; and the VISTA program, which places up to 12 full-time volunteers with regional agencies.

Local arts entities are always looking for a slice of the pie as well. From theatre groups to symphonies to visual arts, funding brings opportunities for members and the general community. Like at Interlochen, ticket sales help, but the organizations also rely on events and the generosity of donors.

The City Opera House is unique in that it offers concerts, a space for events such as the monthly TC New Tech meetings and the National Writers Series, and a venue for wedding receptions, meetings and community events. Its income sources include ticket sales and rentals as well as other fundraising activities.

The latter includes its annual black tie gala.

“Our gala (did) better than it’s ever done before,” said Thom Paulson, development director at City Opera House.

He said the October event, which featured New York City talent, brought in $115,000. He said COH has an annual operating budget of just over $1 million.

Still, raising money in a small town isn’t always easy.

“It’s a competitive place,” Paulson said.

The City Opera House isn’t the only place bringing together its supporters for a night of revelry and funding. At Old Town Playhouse, its gala is responsible for 20 to 25 percent of its funding. Interim Executive Director Deb Jackson said ticket sales account for approximately half its budget, with the remainder coming from advertising sales, grants and donations.

Parallel 45 Theatre relies primarily on individual donations to keep its professional nonprofit theatre running. “We get the majority (of funding) from individuals,” said Erin Whiting, the group’s executive director.

Its budget for 2019 was $744,753. Of that, 25 percent came from ticket sales and 75 percent from donations. She said the hope is that revenue will increase and the ratio will eventually reach the national industry standard for professional nonprofit theatre, which is 41% from ticket sales.

She provided a breakdown of the average donation amounts: $1,400 for businesses, $17,762 for foundations and $357 for individuals. Overall, it took in $18,263 from 11 businesses, $202,700 from 23 foundations and $284,637 from 276 people.

Most of those charged with raising funds acknowledge the challenges of vying for funding with other respected organizations in a relatively small community.

“Fundraising is a contact sport,” said Bogley, referring to developing relationships with supporters.

Some see the funding of charitable endeavors complicated by changes in tax laws and how much can be claimed as deductions.

Worthington said she believes that has impacted giving. Typically, many non-profits would promote making donations at the end of the year as a way to add deductions to people’s taxes, but the change to a larger general deduction and less for giving has led to fewer such donations.

“Last year we saw a big drop in year-end (giving). I think the previous year, people doubled up. So we’re not sure where we’ll end up. So it’s kind of crazy and interesting to see where it goes,” she said.

That’s not the case for all NPOs.

“Most of our gifts are not drawn primarily by tax planning,” said Community Foundation’s Mengebier.
Instead, he said, it’s driven by those who want to leave a legacy.

“We haven’t seen a significant difference … due to the tax break loss,” said McCauley.

That’s not to say that there hasn’t been a downturn. McCauley said that over the past several years, the United Way has seen less funding, both locally and nationally.

But that is changing as the organization recognizes that asking people to give of their time can also persuade them to open their pocketbooks.

“It’s a new world of giving,” said McCauley. “There’s a strong emphasis on advocacy and volunteerism.”

She said that overall, United Way donations are up three percent in the U.S., and most of the global United Way partners have experienced a much higher increase.

While those large-scale efforts can be successful, eventually the organizations will have to once again ask donors for money. How do institutions and organizations anticipate keeping the funds flowing?

“If we continue to do the right things, donors will come back when it’s the right time for them,” Bogley said.