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Charities, Too, Search for a Young Look : Used to be these groups would woo only the older generation. Not anymore. Now they're turning to young adults who'll give money to a good cause-- in exchange for a good time.

March 30, 1995|IRENE LACHER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

For Los Angeles attorney Sal Lavinia, a fund-raising event is a many-splendored thing. "I enjoy meeting people and I enjoy going to parties," he says. "And it all happens to go for a good cause, so it's a win-win situation."

Lavinia, 33, is a member of a select group of partying philanthropists, a breed that's appealing more and more to arts, medical and political institutions in these economically tightfisted times: young adults.

Earlier generations of charity folk may have set their sights mainly on the older, well-heeled crowd able to dish out $500 a plate at fund-raisers. But now institutions are finding it pays to invest in grooming younger people to ante up the doable $50 for a charity event ticket. After all, young lawyers eventually become older lawyers.

"What started these groups was the realization that once the older regime isn't there to support these institutions, who do you look to?" says MOCA Contemporaries head Julie Miyoshi. "It's a long process of educating people and getting them committed to an institution, so you have to start early on."

"Charity groups in general are finding that the only way for them to survive is to keep bringing in new blood and the younger generation," says Nathalie Kunin, who belongs to the Venice Family Clinic's HANDS group. "My mom has been a volunteer at the clinic for many years. Still, I'm the next generation, and my husband and I will be able to participate for many years to come."

Even California's Young Republicans, who used to put their muscle to work on campaigns, discovered an unmined field of junior donors a couple of years ago. The group shifted some of its guns to fund-raising events "because money's it ," as former YR state and county chairman John Hilbert puts it. "Bodies are fine. I told somebody, 'They'd rather have a thousand bucks than a thousand hours.' I don't mean to demean bodies, but money's it ."

Certainly young adults have been lending a fund-raising hand as long as the local 69-year-old Junior League has been donning white gloves. And some of the hardiest organizations, such as MOCA Contemporaries and Concern II, have been surfing waves of success for at least a decade.

But the '90s have also seen the dawn of a patch of new groups, all wooing the limited pool of young Angelenos willing to devote time and/or money to a good time and a good cause--and maybe meet a mate in the process.

Recent newcomers include the American Friends of Israel Museum Associates, Stop Cancer II, Project Childrens Hospital Los Angeles, and the Los Angeles County Museum's Muse (which "trains" museum-goers rather than fund-raisers). That doesn't include other organizations that are hungrily eyeing other groups' successes. Teach for America, which dispatches recent college graduates into the public schools, is laying the groundwork for its own young adult group.

"I think that's a real untapped group of people, particularly in this city, who are anxious to be involved, anxious to play a role in community outreach and remedying some of the ills that face Los Angeles," says Greg Good, regional director of Teach for America/Los Angeles.

Untapped? Or tapped out?

"The problem here, and this is not just for young charity groups, but every group is going after the same people," says Los Angeles writer Betty Goodwin, a board member of a new young offshoot of the American Friends of the Israel Museum. "There's a very small fraction of Angelenos who will spend $50 and up for a ticket to anything, even if it's going to cancer.

"So I think it's very hard to get these groups off the ground, to get enough people, and really, what is the cutoff (age)?" Goodwin says. "You go to singles events of young contemporaries and there are 50-year-old men, and you think, 'Yucch.' You have to deliver what you're advertising, because one important function of these organizations is to meet people."

Most of the joiners are single, although the groups vary in how much oomph they place on socializing. L.A. County Young Democrats' platform used to be throwing a good party, but now it's joining the Party. Over the past couple of years, the group rode the Clinton wave to power within party ranks and the focus has changed to helping members win local elections, says the group's head, Eric Bradley.

In contrast, Concern II advertised a recent fund-raiser in the singles column of the L.A. Weekly. Its president, Derek Alpert, soft-pedals the group's matchmaking mission, saying the column was one of the few published places to list the event. But Alpert acknowledges that for some, fund-raisers are replacing gyms as meeting grounds--and charities are cashing in too.

"It's not an easy social community, but if you can find quality people--and you have to find that somebody who donates their time to be involved in charity makes them more a quality person than the average barfly--these are the kind of people you want to associate with. That has a lot to do with the success," Alpert says.

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