Almost 25 years ago, David B. Schwartz, an attorney for The Walt Disney Co. now living in Los Angeles, graduated from Miami’s New World School of the Arts, the prestigious downtown performing arts school.
Over the years, the school had groomed a steady stream of talent, including more dancers in the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater than any other conservatory in the nation; musicians performing at Lincoln Center and actors on Broadway; artists with works in museum collections; and Schwartz’s own buddy, Randall Emmett, a Hollywood producer behind a slew of hits, including the recent Denzel Washington-Mark Wahlberg cop caper, 2 Guns.
And yet over lunch one day, Schwartz and Emmett found themselves complaining about how much trouble they had tracking down fellow Fighting Pigeons. It turns out the cash-poor public school has no alumni organization.
So the pair did what came naturally to them, and so many other Gen Xers: they got together with friends and started a foundation.
And therein lies the complex nature of harnessing young volunteers and donors in the competitive world of non-profits, where every good deed can be just a click away. Nonprofit organizations eager to lure young supporters must increasingly find new and better ways to cut through the crowded room to reach their target.
The good news, according to the Chronicle on Philanthropy, is that the young rich are not afraid to give: among the nation’s top five philanthropists in 2012, three were couples under 40. The bad news: young supporters show little allegiance to organizations and hunger for “hands-on engagement.”
Across the nation and in Miami, that has put the pressure on organizations to come up with surprising events and creative partnerships.
The New World alumni foundation will live solely online, inhabiting a website that drums up support for the school, connects alums and provides a platform for their work. The site, scheduled to launch in January (www.NWSAAlumni.net), will let alums sell their work online or stage kick-starter campaigns to fund projects. It will also include notices for jobs and internships and, Schwartz hopes, trigger endless collaborations that benefit both the school and its graduates.
“We’re a community where a significant portion are still artists, which can be very lucrative, but is not always,” he explained. “So for us it’s really a matter of finding ways in which each person’s talent can contribute to the organization, and if they can contribute financially as well, that’s spectacular.”
Other groups are finding ways to reach supporters that have produced some interesting, and sometimes uniquely Miami, results.
Friends of the New World Symphony (http://nwsfriends.squarespace.com/), set themselves apart by going after other tribes. Its Pulse parties reach out to the late-night crowd by turning the center into a lounge that pairs a DJ with its classically trained musicians. A bike-themed concert and movie night taps into Miami’s growing cycling community and a yoga night — a mini concert followed by an hour-long yoga class — exposes fitness fans to music they might not necessarily consider. Or vice versa.
The United Way (http://www.unitedwaymiami.org/get-involved-top/young-leaders) organizes pub crawls while the South Florida chapter of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (www.lls.org) has introduced MyLLS, a free app that lets tech-savvy supporters collect donations and organize events on their various devices.