Non-profit sector feels economic pinch

While the economic downturn may be directly impacting Cayman’s financial sector, its repercussions are being felt by nonprofits, which rely not only on corporate largesse but the accumulated donations from individuals to keep up their mandates.

Some remain optimistic, like Pamela Hart, vice-president of the Cayman Islands Humane Society who is also the society’s Fundraising Chairperson.

‘I can only say that we are currently working on the Humane Society Gala which is our largest fundraising event of the year,’ she said.

‘It takes place on 14 March at the Marriott, and I will be in a better position to assess the situation after that event.’

She said the event usually attracts about 300 guests, with tickets going for $150 per person which includes a champagne reception, three course plated dinner, entertainment, live and silent auction, with corporate table sponsorship is $1,500.

‘I sincerely hope that the economic downturn won’t have too much of an impact on local charities some of us are solely dependent on public goodwill in order to survive,’ she said.

It seems Ms Hart’s words resonate with the non-profit sector at large.

Tonya Mitchell, vice-president of Lean on Me, a charity that raises funds for a variety of causes, said she hopes her non-profit’s 21 March fundraiser will prove to be a success despite tough economic times.

‘Our supermarket drops have not been impacted to date,’ she said, and noted that the group’s fundraising event for Paloma relief held at the Lions Centre was a huge success.

‘But that was before people really came to grips that we were in a financial downturn,’ she said.

Lean on Me’s upcoming Spring Celebration Masquerade Ball, with tickets pre-selling for $50, will be a litmus test for the giving climate, said Ms Hart.

‘I will say that it has been impossible for us to pin down a corporate sponsor,’ she said.

‘If the spring ball doesn’t work out, we will need to sit down and go back to the drawing board.’

With not enough funds raised, Ms Hart said the group will no longer be able to support causes, which are mostly medical cases involving children.

Given the low revenues their fundraising efforts are likely to yield, Ms Hart said Lean on Me will focus on its less cost-intensive activities, like volunteer community visits to Cayman Hospice and the Pines, and hosting motivational talks at Fairbanks and Northward prisons.

‘We are cutting back in any way we can, and thanks to some of the businesses we are working with they are giving us discounts on their services, but other than that, we will have to wait and see,’ she said.

Nancy Barnard of the National Gallery said her organisation is seeing the impacts of the economic downturn, in particular when it comes to corporate donations, but it is not feeling overwhelmed just yet.

‘We are used to scrimping and saving as it is, seeing as we are relatively underfunded by government relative to other cultural organizations – what public money we get doesn’t even cover our operating costs,’ she said.

‘All our programming is funded by donations from the public.’

Ms Barnard said the gallery was forced to close down its education centre, which once offered a library, art courses and visual arts programmes for all ages, in order to save $40,000 a year.

Having dealt with fundraising for the gallery for the past nine years, she has noticed a sharp decline in donations over the past six to seven months. Ms Barnard points out a yearly membership costs only $25, while a corporate membership runs $1,000.

‘People have traditionally been good to us because we are seen to give good value for money, a lot of bang for the buck,’ she said.

‘But now, corporations are telling us they aren’t giving because of the economy,’ she said.

‘They mention that they can’t give to us, if that might make or break them having to let go some staff down the line.’

Although she understands the tough choices companies must make, Ms Barnard admitted she was still disappointed.

‘It is said the arts are the soul of a community, and the gallery has provided a healthy counterbalance to the straight-laced financial services sector here in Cayman,’ she said.

She was hopeful, but not overly optimistic, about the success of the Gallery’s upcoming fundraising ball.

‘We have already sold 200 plus tickets out of our goal of 300, which is a good sign I’d say,’ she said.

‘And we definitely owe a lot to the corporate sponsors who have stuck with us over the years.’

It seems she speaks for the entire non-profit sector in her appeal to private citizens as well as the public sector.

‘We can’t stress enough that we need people to continue to be generous, especially during these trying economic times.’