Alexander Youth Network cultivates donors

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — On the heels of its most successful annual fundraising luncheon ever, Alexander Youth Network is working this summer to develop a fundraising strategy that will increase its effort to engage individual donors and, over the long term, increase its endowment.

With offices in Caldwell, Union and Gaston counties, the Charlotte-based agency provides mental-health services to more than 1,200 children a year from more than 75 of North Carolina’s 100 counties.

In comparison, an estimated 125,000 children in the state suffer from mental-health problems, and two-thirds of those children are not expected ever to receive services for their problems, according to federal estimates.

Alexander Youth Network operates with an annual budget of $16 million, covering 90 percent of it with earned income from Medicaid, federal grants and state funding.

It raises $1.8 million through private support, including $550,000 in grants and $900,000 in contributions from individuals.

Now, with a fundraising staff of five people, all but one of whom joined the organization in 2005, the nonprofit is developing a new fundraising strategy, says Anne Schmitt, vice president for advancement.

The crux of the strategy is that “every single contributor, whether a volunteer or donor, should have a meaningful experience,” she says. “We should go to the extreme in making sure we do everything possible to make it the most memorable experience for them.”

A key effort will involve reaching out to “lapsed” donors, says Schmitt, who joined Alexander Youth Network last November 1 after serving as development director for The Family Center.

For the past three years, Alexander Youth Network has used a fundraising program known as “Raising More Money” that Schmitt says often is used by smaller nonprofits just getting started with a fundraising program, and has been effective at bringing in new donors.

That program, which centers on inviting prospective donors to a luncheon, talking about the nonprofit, and then asking for donations, generated $600,000 in 2004, $400,000 in 2005 and $600,000 in 2006.

But in focusing on new donors, she says, the organization lost some existing donors.

While it will continue that program, Alexander Youth Network also will work to strengthen its relationship with existing donors, and revive ties with lapsed donors, Schmitt says, offering them a range of option, including giving to a year-end annual appeal, attending the organization’s annual luncheon, and giving major and planned gifts.

This year’s luncheon, held May 19 at the Charlotte Convention Center, drew 620 guests and raised over $600,000 in gifts and pledges,.

With SPX Corp. serving as presenting sponsor, and 14 other corporate sponsors providing a total of $57,000, the event generated an anonymous pledge of $175,000, plus pledges of at least $1,000 a year for five years from each of 27 individuals.

Schmitt aims to increase annual fundraising by 10 percent a year, while also working to generate more gifts of at least $5,000 and eventually increase the organization’s $6 million endowment to $20 million through bequests and other deferred gifts.

Roughly 35 donors are expected to make gifts of $5,000 or more this year, up from 29 in 2005, Schmitt says.

“The bottom line is that people truly want to help,” Schmitt says. “Our job is to educate and inspire donors.”

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