South Charlotte

Nonprofits embrace creativity

This fall is a key season in the Charlotte area for charity walks and runs – and with the sour economy prompting families to pinch pennies, organizations and fundraisers are using creative strategies to get people to give.

A small organization like the Epilepsy Foundation of North Carolina, which is sponsoring its charity walk next weekend in Charlotte, is feeling the pinch. Last year at this time, the group had raised about $150,000 in donations. This year it's about $42,000, said executive director Pat Gibson.

The big hit came when the foundation canceled plans for a fundraising gala earlier this year because it wasn't financially feasible. The previous year's event depended on donations from businesses for silent auction items and live entertainment – amenities hard to come by this year, volunteers said.

So Ann Sheridan, a southern Mecklenburg parent and volunteer with the group, sent an e-mail to friends recently, explaining what the foundation does and how it helped her daughter Maria, 12, find the right medication and doctors to control her seizures.

“We're not a greedy bunch,” Sheridan, a local television reporter, wrote in her e-mail. “Our Executive Director … works tirelessly around the state … She gets paid nothing.” The note helped raise $2,000 in the last two weeks, Sheridan said.

Fundraising this year is a challenge even to nonprofits with big budgets, said Trisha Lester, vice president of N.C. Center for Nonprofits, based in Raleigh. “But it's no doubt the economy is proving more challenging to smaller (charities),” Lester said. Even the gas crunch affects smaller nonprofits that depend on volunteers, who are now cutting their hours or not volunteering at all, Lester said.

Whether large or small, “you have to have your fundraising very diversified,” Lester said.

Steele Creek resident Debbie Price adopted that approach when she and her teammates for the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer started their fundraising in January.

Last year's Charlotte event raised $2.3 million and drew about 1,000 participants. This year's walk, a long distance event, is Oct. 25-26. Each walker must raise a minimum of $1,800.

Price and her team didn't send only letters for money. Borrowing lawns of three families, the team held a “cornhole tournament.” Think of horseshoes and beanbag games, with players throwing a bag of corn kernels at a board with a hole in it. With hot dogs, door prizes and inflatables boosting the family-friendly vibe, the tournament raised more than $1,200.

Stephanie Cole, a member of the Waxhaw-based The Bee Team, a bicycling group, raised $2,500 for this weekend's charity bike ride sponsored by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Her colleagues at Bank of America competed against others in-house to raise money.

“Our (work) team is competitive,” Cole said. “We all had a lot of people step up and donate money.”