Special Report: What a Relief

November 1, 2006       Mark Hrywna      

Direct Relief International (DRI) since 1948 has been providing food, clothing, medicine and other necessities to people in need around the world. But it wasn’t until after the Asian tsunami in December 2004 that the California-based relief organization really took its public exposure to another level.

Primarily an in-kind organization, DRI nearly doubled its total revenue to $220 million in Fiscal Year 2005, just one example of tsunami-related contributions driving some of the largest increases in this year’s NPT 100.

Some relief organizations saw income grow by as much as 60 to 100 percent compared to the previous year, mostly due to the tsunami that struck eastern Asia killing an estimated quarter of a million people and leaving a million more homeless.

DRI — the biggest mover on the NPT 100, going from No. 100 to No. 53 – had already been supporting a group along the coast of India for many years when the tsunami struck. It was one of the few U.S. groups helping almost immediately since it already had approval from the Indian government at the time, said President and CEO Thomas Tighe.

But it was a sequence of events rather than any prescient fundraising tactic that led to record support for the organization in FY 2005. After local news stations did stories about DRI’s efforts, CNN broadcast the story and “elevated our profile,” Tighe said. Other news stations picked up the story and “after 60 years of never having been on national news, we were on three times in a week because of what we were doing.”

Tighe attributed the surge in contributions to people simply learning about what the organization does. “For us, it was extraordinary,” he said, adding that the organization received $20 million in contributions just a year after reaching $6 million.

The American Red Cross (ARC), almost always a top five organization in the NPT 100, leaped from No. 4 to No. 3 with almost $4 billion in total revenue. ARC’s increase in total revenue alone ($823 million) would have ranked it within the top 20.

Carrie Martin, director of strategic communication and planning at ARC, said the tsunami relief efforts contributed to the jump in public support, but so did the hurricane season of summer 2004. ARC raised $556 million for the tsunami and another $128 million for the 2004 hurricanes, which included Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne. Although the majority of funds raised for the 2004 hurricanes were spent during FY 05, of the funds raised for the tsunami approximately $110 million in immediate assistance was provided during fiscal year 2005, she said.

Stamford, Conn.-based AmeriCares Foundation (No.9) had revenues rise from $813 million to $1.3 billion, nearly all of it in public support. Primarily an in-kind organization, AmeriCares experienced an increase of $50 million in cash donations in 2005, of which $45 million was specifically directed toward tsunami relief. Overall, the 24-year-old nonprofit received in-kind contributions of $1.2 billion during FY 2005 (July to June).

Catholic Relief Services (CRS), No.22, had total revenue increase by almost 25 percent, from $568 million to $707 million, with direct public support more than doubling from $148 million to $342 million.

“We were on the ground responding immediately, and able to communicate broadly,” said Mark Melia, director of annual giving and support at the Baltimore-based nonprofit. “We got a mailing out immediately, and there was a huge influx on our Web site.”

In previous years, CRS never raised more than $1 million online, but by the early weeks of January 2005, it was raising $1 million a day. Ultimately, the nonprofit raised $15 million online for tsunami relief. Approximately $160 million to date has been raised in private contributions, more than $76 million of that from church sources in the U.S., as well as some corporate support.

CRS stopped actively soliciting for tsunami relief by February 2005. Efforts are sufficiently funded, Melia said, with the focus now on building quality housing, providing people in communities with livelihoods and the “assistance not to just have a place to live but to get back to moving their lives forward.”

Just two months before the tsunami, Northwest Medical Teams International (NWMTI) in Portand, Ore., hosted the annual conference of the Partnership for Quality Medical Donation (PQMD), a nonprofit group of American organizations and drug companies that aims to improve humanitarian aid access to medicines. “The member agencies included powerhouse pharmaceutical companies/manufacturers who saw our work firsthand. That exposure two months before the tsunami resulted in a tremendous outpouring of gifts-in-kind,” said Barbara Agnew, interim director of communications at NWMTI. Direct public support rose by more than $91 million, or 63 percent, from $145.5 million to $236.9 million in Fiscal Year 2005, driving NWMTI from No. 82 on last year’s list to No. 48.

But the 2006 NPT 100 isn’t all about relief organizations. An initial look at the data might indicate that museums or cultural groups suffered losses in public support last year. Upon closer inspection, it appears most museums actually had significant fundraising in FY 04 thanks to capital campaigns or other initiatives, with figures coming back to normal in FY 05.

“We’re seeing many more capital campaigns throughout the country than we were seeing right after 9/11,” said Frank Kurre, managing partner of Grant Thornton’s national nonprofit practice. “People who had been planning capital campaigns were in the silent phase. Most of them deferred it at that point, and they waited a couple years and now we’re seeing a lot of capital campaigns all over the place, and I think that’s generating quite a bit of additional revenue as well.”

About a quarter of museums in the nation are actively involved in capital campaigns right now — with a median goal of about $10 million — according to Jason Hall, director of government and media relations for the American Association of Museums. About half the museums have begun or completed construction, renovation or expansion in the past three years.

The Smithsonian Institution (No.29) in Washington, D.C., opened a new museum in September 2004, the National Museum of the American Indian, with much of the revenues reflected in Fiscal Year 2005, since that began in October. The number of visitors jumped from 19.6 million to 24.2 million between FY 04 and FY 05, leading to gains at its shops, restaurants and theaters. Its total revenue jumped from $432 million to $540 million, said Becky Haberacker, public affairs specialist.

The Smithsonian received a $45 million donation from the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation in FY 05 to help renovate and reopen two museums: the American Art Museum and Portrait Gallery. That’s on top of a $30 million gift in 2001, making the $75 million from the foundation the second-largest donation to the Smithsonian, Haberacker said. Now called the Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture, the former patent office closed in 2000 to undergo a six-year renovation before opening this past July.

The Art Institute of Chicago (No.73) is in the midst of a $350-million capital campaign that will add 264,000 square feet for the Modern Wing, designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano and scheduled to open in 2009. The campaign, which has already raised $267 million, includes the design and construction of the building as well as an endowment.

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, (No.90) has raised $352 million, well over half of its $500-million goal for the largest building project ever for a Boston cultural organization. The museum plans to demolish the existing East Wing this month with foundation construction to begin in January, adding 151,000 square feet, mostly for a new American Wing.

The Robert W. Woodruff Arts Center in Atlanta completed a capital campaign and expansion, one reason why its public support numbers declined from $151 million in FY 04 to $103 million, and dropping it from the NPT 100. The arts center raised $150 million, which went toward a 177,000-square-foot expansion of the High Museum of Art and its endowment, a restaurant, parking garage and dormitory and sculpture facility. Like the Boston museum, the Woodruff Center’s revenue for FY05 was more line in with a typical year.

In all, the 10 cultural organizations and museums in this year’s NPT 100 had $2.5 billion in income and more than $1 billion in public support, up 10.6 percent and 17.7 percent, respectively, from the previous year.  NPT

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