Derek Alpert is hardly your stereotypic volunteer. He is the 29-year-old director of music for film and television at A&M Records and also is president of Concern II, a philanthropic organization funding cancer research whose 500 members are young professionals from 18 to 35 years old.
Alpert is one of a growing number of young adults--especially young professionals--who are forming charity groups. Once thought to be the domain of middle-aged matrons, support and fund-raising organizations are courting fresh blood, hoping these new members will stay involved for life.
Established charities are discovering, sometimes the hard way, that volunteers who have devoted time and money for years can't be counted on forever. To build a new base of support, they're enticing new recruits with parties that don't cost an arm and a leg and events and meetings planned around 40-hour work weeks.
Even without top-notch business contacts, many young professionals are proving to be pretty good money-raisers. Derek Alpert had his doubts that anything would come of Concern II when he and a handful of others decided in 1981 to form the group, a spinoff of the senior group, Concern, which was founded in 1968 and also funds cancer research. (Many Concern II members are sons and daughters of Concern members, though Alpert's family is not involved.)
"We all said it could never happen, but it did," said Alpert, the nephew of musician Herb Alpert, co-owner and vice chairman of A&M Records. "I wasn't really sure that people in their early or mid-20s really cared about anyone besides themselves."
'Something Pretty Special'
Such misgivings were dispelled when Concern II's first fund-raiser drew 750 people, and only 200 had been expected. "We knew right then and there," he recalled, "that we had something pretty special."
Alpert and others involved realized that if they were to keep Concern II afloat, they would have to ignore certain unwritten rules about charity organizations. After all, they weren't dealing with men and women who had a lot of time or money. Thus, dues are a minimum of $25, and tickets to Concern II events are about $30. The way Alpert figures it, $30 covers the cost of dinner, a movie and parking in Westwood. Members are not asked to conduct massive fund drives, and meetings are held at off-hours.
Concern II members also do something you won't find at your average $500-per-plate black-tie fund-raiser: They invite young cancer patients to their events. "It's reality staring you in the face," Alpert said. "You realize there is more to life than hanging out in singles bars."
He is adamant that Concern II is not for the young and unattached on the make. "People who join thinking it's going to be like that drop off real fast. We're not the lonely hearts club."
Some become involved because of personal experiences with cancer. "But if they have," Alpert added, "they don't let you know about it. A couple of years ago I was asked if that's why I got involved. But, really, I've been lucky--no one in my family has had cancer. Someone told me (working with Concern II) was like an insurance policy. God forbid it should happen, but if it does I'll know I did something in my life to try to stop it."
So far Concern II has raised $450,000 through parties, fashion shows and donations, with some of that money going to Childrens Hospital, Hebrew University in Jerusalem and UCLA and USC.
Separate From the Original
Although Concern II is separate from the original Concern group, both have funded the same projects in the past. Of the $1 million that Concern gave to different groups last year, $215,000 came from Concern II. (Concern's 12th annual Rodeo Drive Block Party, one of its largest fund-raising events, will be held May 18.)
Clayton Sommers, a private investor who is president of Concern, believes this younger generation of volunteers has had a positive effect on the older generation. "It has been an impetus," he said, "seeing the energy they put into things. It was clear when Concern II was started that unless we got younger people involved, Concern would not survive."
A similar charity group called Friends for Life was born when Jeff Lapin decided he had attended one too many "stuffy" charity events. With the help of some friends, he started Friends, which funds the pediatric intensive-care unit at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
"We all wanted to do something for kids," said Lapin, 29, secretary and general counsel of Hotel Properties Inc. "My friends are at the point now where we're having kids or thinking about having them. I was familiar with Cedars-Sinai because both my parents are involved with its charities. I met with the head of the pediatric ICU and found that there was no group attached to it."