Golf With Clinton, Watches Show Brighter Galas Scene

Patrons at the Parrish Art Museum’s summer gala this month moved to the dance floor with cocktails in hand even before dinner was served.

The annual affair in Southampton, New York, was a sellout. Donors danced to Michael Jackson and Lady Gaga and dined on shrimp salad and lamb chops. Guests, including designers Donna Karan and Isaac Mizrahi, walked home with a fashionable gift bag donated by a local BMW dealership. The event matched the $700,000 raised a year ago, after a period of anticipated declines in a bleak economy.

Parrish Museum Director Terrie Sultan noticed the improved fundraising climate at the nonprofit’s Spring Fling event in April, a cocktail party that also matched $84,000 raised last year instead of taking a hit.

“I started to feel that there was a lot more philanthropic energy around that event, and we met our goal,” Sultan said in a phone interview. “I saw a lot of enthusiasm I hadn’t seen in a while.”

About two years after the fall of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., some New York nonprofits are seeing a return of individual donations. They still have to work harder for individual gifts and corporate support.

3,400 Donors

The Robin Hood Foundation annual gala in May showed that aggressive fundraising could trump the recession, as the poverty-fighting nonprofit raised more than $88 million at a dinner attended by 3,400 people at the Javits Center. The Yale Repertory Theater said Monday that it got a $950,000 gift from the Minneapolis-based Robina Foundation. The money will be used to support its Yale Center for New Theater.

Billionaire George Soros’s Open Society Institute, which gives $150 million annually to charities in the U.S., said today it will award $11 million to 79 arts organizations to help them offset the recession’s impact. The recipients of the gifts, which range from $250,000 to $65,000, include Dance Theater of Harlem, Bronx Arts Ensemble and the New York Youth Symphony.

“We have always seen the arts as a critical component of a vibrant open society,” Ann Beeson, Open Society’s executive director, U.S. programs, said in a phone interview. “Mr. Soros sees the arts as a primary economic driver for the city.”

After a period of cutbacks, some Wall Street banks have stepped forward to support major nonprofits. In May, Credit Suisse renewed its three-year global sponsorship of the New York Philharmonic, which began in 2007.

Barclays Capital underwrote City Harvest’s spring gala, which raised $1.3 million. The New York charity, which feeds about 260,000 of the area’s hungry, called on Credit Suisse to rescue and underwrite its spring 2009 gala when a finance executive backed out as a lead sponsor.

Exceeded Goals

“We’ve had a pretty good nine months, and we’ve had events that have exceeded our revenue goals,” Jilly Stephens, City Harvest’s executive director, said in a phone interview.

That’s a considerable change from last year, one of the worst in three decades for nonprofit fundraising. Charitable giving in the U.S. fell 3.6 percent to $303.8 billion from $315 billion, according to a study published last month by the Glenville, Illinois-based Giving USA Foundation.

Individual gifts to culture-related nonprofits fell 2.4 percent from 2008 to $12.3 billion. Many major corporations pulled back their support of the arts. General Motors of Canada ended its lead sponsorship of the Montreal International Jazz Festival, the world’s largest event of its kind.

Cut Positions

The quest for donors and balanced budgets has been harder for arts groups far removed from the wealth of Wall Street and major corporate centers.

The Seattle Art Museum cut 15 positions in May and announced that it would close its doors for two weeks in 2011 to stay within budget. The city of Boca Raton, Florida, agreed to take over the Count de Hoernle Amphitheater when a local arts group couldn’t afford to maintain it.

A study released last month by the Boston College Center on Wealth and Philanthropy and the Washington-based Association of Fundraising Professionals estimates a 3 to 4.5 percent gain in individual fundraising in 2010 over last year.

In December, the struggling Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra received $85 million from 98-year-old Louise Nippert that allowed it to continue performing full-time. Nippert’s husband, Louis, who died in 1992, was the great-grandson of Procter & Gamble Co. founder James A. Gamble, and she remains a minority owner of the Cincinnati Reds baseball team.

Recovery

“The phone has been ringing this year from financial advisers about gifts their clients are considering,” Thomas Tobin, president of American Endowment Foundation, a Hudson, Ohio-based donor-advised fund said in an interview. “Last year was a bad year.”

This year’s galas have seen the return of filet of beef and lobster on menus after those pricey items were virtually banned by many nonprofits in 2009. Deep-pocket bidders also are returning to silent and live auctions after a dearth of bids of over $50,000 for celebrity experiences and luxury items. This spring, 18 holes of golf with former President Bill Clinton, auctioned by Charitybuzz.com, fetched $80,000 at Christie’s Green Auction. An auction at the Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS fundraiser of a rare Audemars Piguet watch signed by actor Meryl Streep drew a $100,000 bid and a second, matching bid, in the same amount.

“People feel better about the economic climate now, and when they spend a lot of money on an experience, they know that they’re getting something in return,” Charitybuzz.com co- founder and chief executive officer Coppy Holzman said in a phone interview.

To contact the writer on this story: Patrick Cole in New York at pcole3@bloomberg.net.

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