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Hinsdale, Illinois |

Published Feb. 25, 2010                                                    

Challenge grants generate
$1.5 million
Community Memorial Foundation motivates nonprofits to find new ways to raise money

By Christine Cuthbert

   When Jeannie Cella walked into work at Wellness House a few months back, she was surprised by the actions of one of the front desk volunteers.
   “She handed me a check for $1,000,” said Cella, executive director of Wellness House. “I hugged her and thanked her and she said, ‘Jeannie, remember it’s really $2,000.’ She wanted to make sure I understood she had read all the material about the pledge.”
   The volunteer was referring to the challenge grant program funded and organized by Community Memorial Foundation. From September through the end of December, 49 local organizations had the opportunity to raise funds and have up to $7,500 matched by CMF. And last week those who participated were recognized for their fund-raising accomplishments with a special awards ceremony highlighting their creativity in bringing in extra money.
   “Asking for financial support is one of the hardest things anyone can do,” said Deb Daro, CMF board chairman. “You’re saying, ‘Invest in me’ and in these difficult economic times, all of us are challenged to do more with less.”
   Because of the organzations’ efforts, $1.5 million in new money — including the foundation’s match — was infused back into the community.
   Greg DiDomenico, vice president of CMF, said organizations were able to reach out to more donors and raise more funds because of the grant. CMF also works with agencies in other ways to help them better serve their constituents.
   “It’s more than just dollars,” DiDomenico said. “It’s also building their capacity through training and workshops.”
   Praised for the best comprehensive fund development plan, Wellness House was able to bring in 33 percent higher funding in 2009 than 2008. Cella said most of the funding came from targeted solicitations and one-on-one meetings with past and present donors.
   While some organizations relied on their board for the financial contributions, other got creative with their fund-raising. BEDS PLUS, which offers a warm place to stay for many homeless people in the west suburbs, kept a tally of how much had been donated on its Web site in order to inspire people to give.
   “This grant was actually about supporting their mission,” DiDomenico said. “It helped to further the organization’s mission and the great work they do in the communities. It gave them the boost of energy they needed in their year-end solicitations.”
   Joyce Hothead, executive director of Bridge Communities, was honored that her organization received the most engaged board award. Her organization houses, mentors and empowers homeless families. Thanks to the help of her board and its financial support, she believes those who receive services will see huge benefits.
   “It starts at the top with the board and translates down through the staff and through to the families that we help,” she said. “We’re all a team and we’re really working hard to have families move from hopelessness and homelessness to a better life.”
   Melon Furlan, vice president of advancement for Alexian Brothers Foundation, was one of the judges on the awards panel. One thing she found impressive was the organizations’ ability to reach out to a broad base of donors and engage them in the fund-raising process. She saw great examples of this tactic with CEP Youth Leadership Inc., which designs and implements programs for diverse youth groups to promote positive attitudes, leadership and community involvement.
   “I think when you expand the number of donors and volunteers in the community, you will raise awareness and support,” she said. “I think it will cause a rippling effect.”
   With the economy continuing to suffer and funding for nonprofits being cut at the state and federal levels, Furlan said the support local organizations receive from CMF is crucial in keeping them operating.
   “These organizations are good at service delivery, but their expertise is usually on the programmatic area,” she said. “It’s hard for them to make investments on the administrative and development side because they’re already working with such a strict budget. I think the pressure is greater than ever right now. They’re going to experience cuts they haven’t seen in the last 10 years, so their fund-raising skills are going to need to be quite sophisticated to keep the organizations sustainable.”
   DiDomenico agreed that shortfalls in public funding are ahead and reaching out to private donors is more important now than ever.
   “They need to build their own infrastructure and work on their development plan,” he said.
   CMF has been offering the challenge grant for the last four years.
   President and Chief Executive Officer Jim Durkan said having an awards night is important because it allows those who have participated to network with each other and to commemorate their accomplishments.
   “I think it’s important to celebrate, and I think it’s important to celebrate success,” Durkan said. “Sometimes it gives us that little push and uplift that can carry us through other months. All of these organizations have missions that are out to better individuals and the community.”

 CMF special recognition awards

Largest increase in major gifts
Ray Graham Association
Brought in $75,000 in new money

Largest number of new gifts
Community Nurse Health Association
Obtained 21 new major gifts by targeting specific groups

Largest increase in planned giving
The Community House
Received $51,000 in planned gifts during the last four months

Most engaged board
Bridge Communities

Most comprehensive development plan
CEP Youth Leadership Inc.
Wellness House



— Making a difference is a yearlong partnership between The Hinsdalean
and Community Memorial Foundation, whose mission is to measurably improve
the health of people work live and work in the western suburbs.





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