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Creativity is key for South Florida nonprofit groups

Feeding South Florida needed a fresh way to raise awareness about hunger. Enter the graffiti artists.

With a wall in the hip Wynwood neighborhood now devoted to the cause, the Pembroke Park-based organization has become a prime example of the lengths nonprofits are going to as need grows, traditional support shrinks and competition for dollars heats up.

“In the past, we did things very traditionally,” said Diana Brooks, an advertising company owner who became the organization’s board chair in July. “We said, ‘How can we think outside the box and really make some noise?’”

Along with the Wynwood mural, Feeding South Florida launched a Halloween-themed campaign on email and social media featuring scary images, “scarier” facts about hunger — and a link to donate money. The effort brought in more than $5,000 in three days,Brooks said, and drew interest from people who wanted to know more about the organization.

As some avenues of support for the organization’s mission have decreased, Brooks said standing out among the crowd has become essential. And nonprofits are under increasing scrutiny from donors who want to make sure they’re giving to the groups that will best maximize their money.“When you have over 10,000 nonprofits fighting for the same bucket, you have to get a lot more creative in other revenue streams,” Brooks said.

Charitable giving in America took a dive in 2008 and 2009, about 13 percent combined, said Tim Seiler, a professor of philanthropic studies and director of The Fund Raising School at Indiana University’s Center on Philanthropy. For the past two years, the trend reversed, but the increases have been tiny.

“Those increases are a positive indicator that suggest that people want to be generous to the degree that they can even when times are tough,” Seiler said.

Still, he said, experts predict it will take another four or five years for giving to reach pre-recession levels.

With funding cuts a way of life, many organizations are trying to offset the growing demands on their resources by new fundraising avenues. 2-1-1 Broward, a 24-hour resource that provides information on health and human services as well as crisis counseling, started the Non-Profit Academy Awards in 2011 to raise money and reward deserving organizations in the county.

“There is actually a red carpet,” said president and CEO Sheila Smith. “We actually had live gold painted statues.”

The event drew about 700 people at the beginning of this year, 100 more than its first outing. Put on with the help of several sponsors, it has become the single biggest annual fundraising event for the organization, which has a $1.8 million budget.

“It certainly increased our awareness among potential donors in a big way,” Smith said.

The Miami Foundation, which creates charitable funds for donors based on their interests, is trying to stir up interest with a new initiative called Give Miami Day. On Dec. 12, from midnight to midnight, donors will be able to choose from a long list of participating nonprofits online that they can research and support. The foundation will have a matching program in place.

“We’re just encouraging people to look at philanthropy differently and not necessarily think you have to subscribe to the same old ways of raising money,” said communications officer Matthew Beatty. “Obviously, you’re going to have to make more of an impact and stand out a little bit more if you trying to raise money in a difficult economy.”

The most successful fundraisers have combined new social media tools with proven face-to-face methods, Seiler said. Where tools such as Facebook come in handy is by reaching younger potential donors through their peers.

“People give to organizations through people they trust,” he said. “So when someone posts on a Facebook page and says ‘I’m supporting this organization and I’d like you to do that,’ there’s a trust level. Younger generations trust their friends more than institutions.”

Organizations say transparency and accountability are especially important as donors with limited money to give are demanding to know how their money is used.

“It’s vitally important that donors know exactly where their dollars are going and what difference their dollars are making,” said Kathleen Cannon, president and CEO of United Way of Broward County. She said the United Way provides such information on its website and sometimes through Facebook.

Social media has been helpful over the last couple of years in spreading awareness about what the Boys & Girls Clubs of Miami-Dade is doing and who it is helping, said executive director Alex Rodriguez-Roig. But, he said, he hasn’t yet seen examples of serious fundraising success through those avenues.

“It’s still face-to-face by all means,” he said.

The organization is starting the third year of a board-driven campaign that seeks relatively manageable gifts — $100-$200, for example, instead of $1,000.

“We started that then because with the economic climate, it was much harder to get the larger gifts,” Rodriguez-Roig said. Last year, the effort brought in about $80,000.

“In these challenging times, you have to consider doubling or tripling your efforts to get the same return,” he said. “Having a good marketing plan to showcase what your product is, what your outcomes are is essential for people to understand what you’re really about and for them to be able to believe in you and stand with you and support your cause.”