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Bainbridge Arts and Crafts, other nonprofits suffer a chilly summer

When Bainbridge Arts and Crafts learned it was the recipient of a $1 million endowment from an anonymous local donor earlier this month, it was a “woo-hoo” moment for the 60-year-old nonprofit, Executive Director Susan Jackson said.

But the gift marked a bright spot in what had been an otherwise grim season for BAC.

Lagging sales at the organization’s gallery had forced Jackson to trim her payroll by 20 percent in May. A recent fund-raiser helped restore the salaries, but Jackson expects sales and general contributions to be down again in the coming year, and she’s not sure how long she can maintain full staffing.

“It’s really difficult to be an executive director in this tough economic climate,” Jackson said.

It has been a trying year for many nonprofits.

Like BAC, a number of island organizations are reporting contributions down from last year and are preparing leaner budgets. Directors say higher prices for goods like gas and groceries, as well as the threat of economic recession and competition from political campaigns, are all factors tempering philanthropy.

Adding to the squeeze, rising prices are making it more expensive for nonprofits to operate, while driving up the need for these services, especially from social service groups.

Every nonprofit is impacted in some way by the economic downturn, but each is feeling the pressure differently.

“It’s all apples and oranges,” Bainbridge Performing Arts Managing Director Susan Sivitz said. “We operate on so many different levels.”

While BAC has seen a dive in gallery sales, BPA has maintained a steady revenue from tickets for its live shows, which account for roughly 20 percent of its operating budget. Sivitz said BPA’s numbers are down slightly from last year, mostly due to a dip in the number of donors giving smaller amounts and in contributions from businesses.

Bainbridge Schools Foundation, which helps fund classroom supplies and teacher salaries in island public schools, has a strong base of support, drawing contributions from about 35 percent of island families with students as well as other households.

But this year the foundation has seen smaller donation amounts, said Executive Director Vicky Marsing, who took over for retiring executive director Bruce Beall on July 1. Marsing said the foundation will close its fiscal year at the end of July, with contributions down to about 10 percent – or roughly $50,000 – from 2007. The decline in non-tax generated revenue has contributed to the $3.5 million shortfall the school district is already budgeting for.

“It’s kind of a double whammy,” Marsing said. “(The school district) is losing state funding and federal funding, and we won’t be funding them as much as we did last year.”

Social service nonprofits have been challenged with meeting growing demand, without the aid of growing revenue.

At Helpline House, use of the food bank is up 17 percent from last year. A cold winter, followed by a spring of searing fuel and food prices, has strained the budgets of many island residents, especially those on fixed incomes, said Helpline Executive Director Joanne Tews.

Helpline’s donations have remained approximately even with last year, Tews said, in part because the organization has responded to the economic downturn with targeted campaigns. A recently created program, which invites islanders to sponsor a pallet of food from an organic farm, is one creative way Helpline is reaching out to donors. It’s a campaign Helpline may not have considered last year, Tews said.

Another reason Helpline’s revenue has not faltered may be that donors understand the increased need for its services, she said.

“People take a look at their own situation, and realize other people are in a a tougher position than they are,” Tews said.

Interfaith Volunteer Caregivers, an organization that helps residents with limited mobility with daily needs, has also been swamped with demand. The group has added 1,000 service hours each year for the past three years.

But this year, IVC has been hurting since its United Way funding took a dive, Administrative Director Kaycie Wood said.

“We’ve been dipping into our little reserve,” Wood said, “and thankfully we have one.”

IVC has two major fundraisers a year, the first coming in early August. Wood is optimistic that the organization’s stalwart donors will shoulder the funding burden, but adding a third fundraising event isn’t out of the question, she said.

If slow spring and summer fundraising continues into fall, island nonprofits will be leaning more than ever on One Call For All, Bainbridge’s conglomerated fund drive.

One Call For All Executive Director Bob Linz said it’s far too early to know how a recession could impact the three-month appeal, which raised more than $800,000 last year. But he believes the economic strain will be countered by an understanding of the increased need for charity.

“I suspect people will step up,” Linz said. “When times get tough people tend to step up.”

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