ROCKY MOUNT, N.C. — Over the past two years, a new organization has helped generate more than $708,000 in donations for nonprofits that serve the people of Rocky Mount.
That’s a lot of generosity, particularly for a community hit hard by the devolving economy, and that less than a year ago was named one of the most impoverished cities in the U.S. by Forbes magazine.
With the loss of jobs in the textile and tobacco industries, the loss of the Hardee’s and RBC Centura headquarters, and an unemployment rate that has topped 14 percent this summer, Rocky Mount is in need of a little good news and community spirit.
Reach Out Rocky Mount was created two years ago to provide that boost, says Lige Daughtridge, chair of the nonprofit’s board.
“I was born and raised in Rocky Mount,” he says. “I’m raising my kids here and I have a small business here. My interest is in the community of Rocky Mount. You have to get involved to make your community better – it doesn’t happen over night, it takes some sweat equity.”
To bring that sense of community back to a struggling city, the founders of Reach Out Rocky Mount modeled their efforts on the Old Bill Fun Run from Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
Over a two-month period each spring, Reach Out Rocky Mount, which operates with no paid staff, spearheads a fundraising drive for local nonprofits that culminates in a Fun Run designed to bring the community together and raise awareness of local charities.
Any local nonprofit can participate as long as it serves the people of Rocky Mount and is a 501c3 tax-exempt organization.
Once affiliated with Reach Out Rocky Mount, nonprofits encourage their supporters to donate through the Reach Out website, designating their contribution to benefit the nonprofits of their choice.
Meanwhile, the board of Reach Out is busy all year long raising additional funds that will be used to match the money raised and designated to specific nonprofits.
In its first year, the board raised $103,865 in matching funds, $100,000 of which came from one anonymous donor. Last year, it raised $118,261.
Raising money for that matching fund can be difficult, given that the funds are spread out over all participating nonprofits, which include churches, private schools, family-planning organizations and social-service organizations, among others.
“It takes a special person to be able to put that money in,” says Daughtridge, whose company is a wholesaler of pressure and temperature instrumentation. “They put money in, but they may not agree with all the nonprofits.”
Nonprofits keep 100 percent of the funds designated to them, and receive a match of up to $25,000, with the match percentage based on the total of matching funds and designated funds raised.
In 2009, 45 nonprofits participated, raising a total of $149,401.50 in designated funds, which were matched at a rate of 70.5 percent, bringing the total donated to nonprofits to $253,266.50.
This year, the 65 participating nonprofits received a total of $336,857.49 in designated funds, plus a match of 38.7 percent, bringing the total donated to $455,118.49.
All that money, the designated funds and the matching funds, end up in nonprofits’ banks accounts, with Reach Out board members bearing all other costs.
The 16 board members, who Daughtridge describes as “fairly young,” cover the costs of marketing and advertising the event to nonprofits and the public, including television, radio and newspaper ads, banners, flyers and brochures.
And they pay the administrative fee charged by the North Carolina Community Foundation, which manages Reach Out’s funds and helps coordinate the Fun Run, which typically draws about 500 runners and walkers.
And to raise the visibility of nonprofits within the community, Reach Out requires all participating organizations to host an information booth at the Fun Run so Rocky Mount residents and funders can learn more about the work of the sector.
“We need to come together as a community,” says Daughtridge. “And this is an opportunity for the whole community to come together.”
The event has been a boon for the Tar River Mission Clinic, a two-year-old Rocky Mount nonprofit that provides free health care for about 430 patients with chronic diseases.
Its patients are lower-income residents who have no insurance and who struggle with conditions like diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure, says Gene Wilson, the group’s executive director.
This year, the group raised almost $12,700 in designated funds, and received almost $5,000 in matching funds, for a total of almost $17,600.
That’s a windfall for an organization with annual cash expenses of about $160,000.
And some of the donations came from the clinic’s patient population, says Wilson.
“We tried to emphasize with them that it’s an opportunity for the average Joe to be a philanthropist,” he says. “You don’t have to give $10,000 – you can be a philanthropist with just $10.”
And that’s one of the primary messages Daughtridge hopes Reach Out Rocky Mount and the Fun Run can get across to the community.
“A lot of people don’t realize that if you have hundreds of five- and ten-dollar donations, multiplied out, it’s a lot of money,” he says. “We want small donors to realize they can have an impact on their community.”