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The Boston Globe OnlineBoston.com
Boston Globe Online / Giving

In shadow of urban nonprofits, groups fight for funds

By Erica Noonan, Globe Staff, 11/18/2001

    Change of heart
It used to be we worried about other things, like what was on the racks at the mall. Now we're not buying as much, but we are giving money away like mad.

Internet surge
Since Sept. 11, charitable donations have been pouring in over the Internet. But will online giving have a sustained impact on nonprofits?

Keeping faith
A unique mission to join secular foundations with black churches is boosting services to some of Boston's poorest neighborhoods.

Market pressures
Endowments are having one of their worst investment years in a decade. Here's how people responsible for investing the money are managing.

Guidance for giving
The tremendous creation of wealth that occured during the 1990s has many individuals seeking guidance for how they give.

Education collaboration
How the Boston public schools and the local business community finally got working together.

Corporate outsourcing
Donor-advised funds have become wildly popular with individuals over the last decade. Now some companies are trying them, too.

The nonprofit 100
A ranking of the top Massachusetts nonprofits by public support, revenue, expenses, and assets.

NATICK - For Joseph Hurwitz, charity really does begin at home. While the retired musician frequents Boston's Museum of Fine Arts and attends performances of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, his real cultural passion is less than a mile from his front door.

As chairman of the Center for Arts in Natick's capital campaign, Hurwitz has overseen the accumulation of $1.2 million in donations over the past four years, given by local residents and businesses that were all enthusiastic about a major arts center in their hometown.

The majority of donors, including 11 of the original dozen ''Founders Circle'' $10,000 donors, are local, as are nearly all the businesses and banks that have given financial support, Hurwitz said.

Natick is among the dozens of suburban communities between Route 128 and Interstate 495 that have seen double-digit population increases and skyrocketing property values in the past decades - along with strong growth of support for local cultural programs.

Hurwitz and his colleagues have just begun to tap longtime donors of major Boston cultural institutions, hoping they will consider shifting some of their financial support to Natick's arts scene.

But they're finding it's not always easy to get residents who work in Boston and identify themselves with the city's prestigious academic and cultural institutions to abandon their longtime patterns of charitable giving.

''Some people are more inclined to give more money to Boston performance centers, but I think we can overcome that as we become more successful,'' said Hurwitz. ''Success begets success. Those people who contribute to the arts may not give us as much as they gave the BSO, for example, but they will often give to us also.''

TCAN plans to solicit contributions from Boston banking chains with Metro West offices, but fund-raisers aren't sure those institutions will be as enthusiastic about the center as Middlesex Savings Bank and Natick Federal Savings Bank have been, Hurwitz said.

At the South Shore Arts Center in Cohasset, the lion's share of donors - those who give $1,000 or more annually - also are local residents and small businesses, according to development director Monica McKenney. The 47-year-old regional group has an important advantage: an established identity, and the ability to provide donors an affiliation with a brand-name organization.

''A very high percentage of our [donor] population work in Boston and they do support the cultural institutions in Boston, too,'' said McKenney. ''But we are not competing with the MFA. Instead, we try to draw people from the city with our programs.''

While local support for the arts runs strong in suburban Boston, organizations that address social needs say they are still fighting for local money to go into the coffers of local nonprofits - instead of to big-name Boston charities.

Mark Yerkes, executive director of Crossroads Community Foundation, estimates there is more than $1 billion in the portfolios of 300-plus funded charitable trusts and foundations in the suburbs west of Boston. But little more than half the money distributed by those organizations goes directly to deserving local charities, he said. That's a longstanding pattern that Crossroads, founded six years ago by a Dover philanthropist, is trying hard to change.

''For a long time, this region was a never-never land that grant dollars weren't coming to,'' Yerkes said, explaining that Boston's big private foundations were funding only within Route 128 and Worcester foundations were funding only in Worcester County. ''We see a lot of people in the suburban regions giving to Boston-based or national nonprofit institutions, and not to the nonprofits in towns they call home.''

Donations to large nonprofits, such as the American Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity, and the United Way, often make their way back into the suburbs through local chapters. But small nonprofits, the food banks, homeless shelters, or literacy programs, are often left scrambling.

One reason is the relative affluence of residents in the towns buffering the Route 128 technology belt, Yerkes said.

''When a lot of folks picture charity, what comes to mind is very low-income families and kids on the streets,'' he said. ''While homelessness is not such an issue in Weston or Dover, they are not unscathed [by need]. There are issues surrounding the environment, open space, the needs of the elderly, and many more.''

It's the local connections that are crucial to motivate donors, particularly those without longstanding ties to an area or who are not regular churchgoers, said Paul Schervish, a professor of sociology at Boston College and an expert in philanthropic patterns.

Most churchgoers tend to earmark more than half of their charitable expenditures on causes connected to their places of worship, but those who do not attend church will look elsewhere to find nonprofits deserving of their donations, Schervish said.

''People are generous when they view themselves tied to or identified with other people in need,'' he said.

Therefore, it's crucial that organizations such as Crossroad connect suburban philanthropists with deserving suburban charities, Yerkes said.

Crossroads is also attempting to educate the fastest-growing philanthropic category, family trusts, about local need, as well as the companies that have settled in Metro West communities.

Ron Ancrum, president of Associated Grantmakers of Massachusetts, said the only way to change donation patterns is through education. ''What we understand of giving patterns is that people will give to an organization when they have a good sense of what the organization is doing and they can see their money put to good use,'' he said.

One Merrimack Valley grant-making organization says it has sucessfully put this into action, ensuring that most of the money raised locally stays local.

Elizabeth Beland of North Andover-based Stevens Foundation said her group makes more than $2 million in grants each year, all to Greater Lawrence charities.

Local priorities include education, with Lawrence High School and the Essex Arts Center being major beneficiaries of local philanthropists, she said. Of the 25 regional organizations making more than 200 grants annually in the Merrimack Valley, most choose to help the nearby needy, she said.

Erica Noonan can be reached at enoonan@globe.com

This story ran on page F7 of the Boston Globe on 11/18/2001.
© Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company.