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When It Comes to Fund Raising, It Pays to Make Friends

June 21, 1995|JULIE BAWDEN DAVIS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It was a fund-raiser's dream. A philanthropist from Laguna Beach, William J. Gillespie, earlier this month pledged to donate $6.62 million to Orange County arts organizations.

And probably the biggest boost went to the Pacific Chorale. Its share, $1 million, would be $200,000 more than its annual budget.

How did the Pacific Chorale get so lucky?

Lucky nothing, says Greg Silberman, who, as executive director, is in charge of fund raising for the Pacific Chorale.

Gillespie has a "great rapport with our artistic director, John Alexander, who has brought Mr. Gillespie more and more into the organization. You have to cultivate these relationships. Mr. Gillespie has been a good friend for four years."

It's the fund-raising secret that everyone knows: To make money, you have to make friends.

"Fund raising isn't just business," said Liz Polo, director of special events for the Southern California/Southern Nevada/Utah Chapter of Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, which raises $2 million a year. "You can't just ask people to give you money or time. It's important to have a relationship with your donors."

Carol Stone, president and corporate executive officer of the Volunteer Center of Greater Orange County, agrees: "You raise friends first."

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For Polo, making friends is her job. From her office at the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation in Anaheim, she plans numerous charitable events and often develops lasting relationships with sponsors and donors.

"Our donors' commitment to the cause is beyond dollars--it comes from their heart," Polo said.

"No matter what their financial status is, if it changes, we still want their support to be ongoing," said the Costa Mesa resident. "It's not just a onetime invitation. We would like them to be there with us at the finish line when we approach the cure."

Polo said she doesn't send letters to ask for support or to thank donors but, rather, meets with them over a meal.

"In today's world, we lose so much of ourselves in paperwork that the human factor is no longer there," Polo said. "I want to say 'thank you' in person."

Of the more than 1,200 charities and other nonprofit organizations in the county, Garth Blumenthal, general manager of Fletcher Jones Motor Cars in Newport Beach, has elected to support fund-raising events that benefit the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

The reason?

"We believe in the cause. We try to support local charities, particularly if they have to do with children," said Blumenthal, whose dealership receives hundreds of requests for donations each year. "We try to support as many as we can, but each year we choose a charity to put our full support behind."

For the past three years, that charity has been the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

"The relationship that the dealership has with Cystic Fibrosis is primarily because of Liz Polo. There are many good causes, but the difference is her. With some charities, it becomes a very one-way relationship," said Blumenthal, who serves on the foundation's board of directors.

"It takes a lot of work to organize a big event with several hundred people, to pull it all together and have a crowd that will be generous and supportive and have fun," he said. "Liz does all that."

Last year, his dealership donated a Mercedes-Benz CT80, valued at more than $30,000, to be auctioned at a casino fund-raiser.

"It's important that the people involved in worthwhile causes see that their investment is appreciated or acknowledged," Blumenthal said.

Polo said she finds out the degree of exposure the sponsor wants.

"We have some who want to be anonymous and others who want to be interactive by attending the event," Polo said.

Regular phone calls to supporters help her get to know them well enough to know what they would enjoy doing, whether it's serving on a party committee or encouraging their friends to volunteer their time.

"First, I find out what people are interested in and how they would like to benefit from being involved with our organization," she said. "The only way to be successful raising funds is to make it a win-win relationship for both."

In 1994, individuals made 88% of charitable donations to nonprofit groups in the United States, according to the American Assn. of Fund-Raising Counsel, which represents fund-raising consultants and promotes ethical standards in the industry.

The Pacific Chorale's Silberman says individual donors "have a real passion for making a contribution. It's usually because of the group's mission and the artistic product. We cultivate and find out what their interests are. It could be underwriting our concerts, our educational component or our three children's choruses. [Donor] Mr. Gillespie likes to suggest programming ideas to our artistic director."

Polo of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation organizes four major fund-raisers a year: the Academy Awards party in March, La Dolce Vita in late summer, a Renegade Ride in the summer and Under the Gypsy Moon Casino Night in November. Throughout the year, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation is approached to benefit from other events, such as restaurant premieres.

Some donors would like to get exposure for their businesses, while others may know someone affected by the disease that the group supports. Others may just be excited by a particular event.

"Just recently I met a man whose ears perked up when I mentioned a motorcycle ride benefit we have coming up," Polo said. "He owns a restaurant and offered to do a benefit for the foundation."

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