Targeting individuals – Sluggish economy a factor

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — To meet its record $10 million goal for the annual fund drive that kicked off Jan. 16, the Arts & Science Council is counting on increasing the number of individual contributors in the face of an economic downturn.

The key, council leaders say, is to play to Charlotte’s strong identity as a community that cares deeply about the arts and culture.

“People are passionate about how they want their community to be defined,” says Harriet Sanford, who is taking on her first annual drive since joining the council last year as president and CEO.

Individuals gave 70 percent of the $9.2 million raised last year, and the council this year is asking previous contributors to increase their giving by 10 percent.

The council also is targeting new sectors, including independent health-care practices, CEOs new the region and retirees able to give $500 or more.

And while the economy has been tough on the telecommunications and technology industries, they’ll be asked to dig deep as well.

“It’s important to support the arts in good times and bad,” says Tim Arnoult, chief technology executive at Bank of America and chair of this year’s drive. “We’re not letting anyone off because times are tough.”

Based on analyses of every one of the 60 companies the council believes have the greatest potential for giving, the drive’s 800 volunteers will tailor their fundraising pitches to each company and its employees.

“Our job is to go in and see where we connect with those employees who are not currently giving to us,” says Sanford.

Of the 36,000 individuals who made gifts last year, 22,000 gave $50 or less.

“That’s very important to us,” Sanford says, noting that while many firms have high levels of employees contributing to the annual drive, participation at others may be only 15 percent to 20 percent of their workforce.

“It’s not just about getting big corporate money or large gifts,” she says. “It’s about increasing the total donor base.”

While local companies have been enthusiastic champions of the arts, encouraging employee support and making big contributions of their own, Sanford concedes that “we’ve kind of pushed the corporations pretty far.”

In setting its goal, the council adjusted for the weakening economy – including plans by Bank of America and First Union to pare their payrolls – and arrived at “what we believe we can absolutely get,” she says.

Sanford is upbeat about making the case to individuals and employers alike that the arts are critical to Charlotte.

The council ranks first among U.S. arts funds in workplace and per-capita giving.

And a study to be released soon by UNC-Charlotte, Sanford says, will show a “very significant” increase in the economic impact of the arts and culture on Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. The last UNCC study two years ago found the impact was $55 million.

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