When Brother Ronald Giannone inspected a downtown Wilmington building he planned to turn into a childcare center in 1991, he found a 42-foot-long wet bar in the basement.
While most nonprofit directors would be asking what’s wrong with this picture, Giannone only saw possibilities. To him, the pre-war bar with the curved oak surround, the gleaming glass-block front and the art-deco mirrored back bar was more silver lining than white elephant.
“It was impressive that it was so long and attractive, made of block glass. I wondered if we could use it for our fundraising efforts,” Giannone said. “There would be a new conversation around this bar: how can we help our poor neighbor.”
The ministry built its award-winning early-childhood education center for poor and homeless children on the street level, but the bar on the ground floor was undisturbed.
An unintended fundraiser was hatched – like Goodwill’s annual Runway Show, Faithful Friends’ CatNap hammocks, the Food Bank’s catering services or the Wilmington Youth Rowing Association’s rowing tank rentals. Delaware nonprofits are leveraging the assets right under their noses.
After 24 years, the Ministry of Caring is preparing to rent out its bar to support its 19 programs for poor and homeless Delawareans – from a dental clinic to a residence for homeless people living with AIDS. The bar room, which has been dubbed Il Cappuccino, comes with a professional kitchen, 2,200 square foot for tables and elevator access.
No one at Faithful Friends, the no-kill animal shelter, was thinking “fundraiser” when volunteers Shelly Vaughn and Frank Obermeier sewed padded fleece hammocks so cats waiting to be adopted could hang out in style.
Vaughn placed the hammocks in the cages, and the cats, who typically wait 30 to 180 days for adoption, loved them. They weren’t the only ones.
“People coming in on tours would be like, ‘Oh, that’s so cute. I want to have a hammock for my cat,’” said Jane Pierantozzi, executive director of Faithful Friends.
An unintended fundraiser was born.
Since most housecats roam free, Pierantozzi asked the volunteers to think outside the cage. They designed a free-standing hammock stand from PVC piping. Because cats love to climb, it comes in one-level, two-level or three-levels. They have hundreds of kitty-sized hammocks on hand.
“I think we could sell it and all the proceeds would go to the shelter, but we’re still trying to figure out pricing,” Pierantozzi said. “We welcome any business-savvy volunteers who want to help us develop the hammock sales or other entrepreneurial ways to raise money for the shelters.”
She expects the hammocks will contribute only a small slice of Faithful Friends’ $1.7 million budget. The largest share – about 75 percent – comes from individual gifts. The rest comes from grants and small service fees for vet services.
“We are exploring what other nonprofits, not only in Delaware but in other states, are doing as revenue-generators,” Pierantozzi said. “We’re looking at things that won’t be time-intensive or labor-intensive.”
“People look at the animal shelter and think it’s a service funded through public taxes, said Vaughn, the volunteer who works five or six nights a week sewing hammocks. “They don’t understand that they’re struggling with private donations and they need help to keep the service going.”
Goodwill Industries employees just wanted to get some respect when they staged their first Runway Show five years ago.
“We often got comments that there’s nothing really fashionable at Goodwill, it’s all hand-me-downs, spokesman Ted Sikorski said. “Someone said, ‘Why don’t we just have a fashion show?’”
The fashion show is now in its fifth year, featuring designers such as Marc Jacobs and Ann Taylor and netting $8,000 for education scholarships for Goodwill clients.
“It started out as a friend-raiser, and now it’s become a fundraiser,” Sikorski said.
Goodwill of Delaware and Delaware County is a $35.7 million nonprofit enterprise that provided more than 54,000 services and helped 600 local residents get jobs in 2014 through its Job Resource Centers in Wilmington and Upper Darby, Pa.
Food Bank of Delaware
When guests at Food Bank fundraisers, tasted the food, they invariably asked who their caterer was. The staff realized they had a load-bearing asset in-house – their culinary school.
“As a result, we’ve created a menu and priced everything out,” spokesperson Kim Turner said. “People can just go to our website and order for a particular event.”
The culinary school was founded in 2002. The catering spinoff came in 2009.
The $50,000 catering budget is small potatoes compared to the Food Bank’s $15.9 million expenses, but, at the Food Bank, the entrepreneurial ideas don’t stop there.
The Food Bank plans to expand its culinary program in Wilmington, and it’s already planning to offer food-safety certification classes for restaurant managers there.
“It’s important to think out of the box,” Turner said.
Wilmington Youth Rowing Association
When it built its boathouse on the Christina River in 1998, the Wilmington Youth Rowing Association ordered fiberglass indoor rowing tanks – water-filled tanks with rowing apparatus fitted inside to simulate sculling, rowing with two rows, or sweeping, rowing with one oar per person.
As other rowing crews arrived for regattas, coaches from as far away as Virginia asked if they could rent the tanks. Another accidental fundraiser was born. Now WYRA rents its tanks on Saturdays at $100 an hour with a two-hour minimum.
Although some WYRA rowers come from Wilmington’s priciest neighborhoods, some come from the poorest. Many do not pay full price. WYRA holds three fundraisers each year to help cover the cost. The tank rentals add another $2,000 to $4,000 a year.
Each summer, WYRA sponsors ROW FOR IT!, an intro-to-rowing camp for children 10 to 14. City children who have lived by the river their entire lives finally get to row on it, but easily 70 percent of them pay nothing.
“We want kids to join crew regardless of where they live or whether they can afford to pay, so we are always looking for opportunities to raise funds,” said Faith Pizor, WYRA’s executive director. “Most nonprofits are always trying to find ways to bring in more funds to survive. The big nonprofits – art museums, symphonies, libraries, theater groups — often have endowments or strong supporters in the community and get press to promote their fundraising. It’s the smaller nonprofits, which serve the community ever day but do not have support from the state or local governments nor are vocal, that have to come up with novel ways to raise funds.”
Delaware nonprofits have leveraged their assets and their volunteers to raise money, but there are only so many rabbits in a hat, and nonprofit leaders say they would prefer to spend their time on their missions.
As Jane Pierantozzi of Faithful Friends said, “We’re looking for entrepreneurial ways to bring in funds, especially during these tough economic times when more animals need help but it’s harder to fundraise. We’re looking for things that won’t be time-intensive or labor-intensive.”