GREENWICH -- Nonprofits have thrived on the generosity of Greenwich residents who regard philanthropy as ingrained in the town's culture. But while the town's giving spirit is in no short supply, even Greenwich's pocket of the Gold Coast is not immune to the pressures of economic recession, local nonprofit directors said.
Still reeling from dips in giving since 2008, nonprofits have convened their boards to re-evaluate their financial priorities. Some have become more assertive in pursuing potential donors and maintaining current contributors, officials said.
"It's gotten to the point where you can't be afraid to ask," said Shari Shapiro, executive director of Kids in Crisis, whose mission is to protect youth from abuse and family crisis. "Asking is tough, but you remind yourself that it's for the kids. You are asking people to invest in children who are vulnerable."
Furthermore, health and human service organizations must simultaneously keep pace with increased need for their amenities, said Stuart Adelberg, president and chief executive of the United Way of Greenwich, which gives over $2.5 million annually to such organizations.
As a result of the unpleasant economic climate, more local residents require extended services, thus tapping into emergency funds set up as only temporary channels of support, such as food provisions for families of the unemployed. Childcare also remains in high demand and a "lion's share" of United Way's dollars go toward higher levels of scholarship support, Adelberg said.
"Our agencies are stressed and challenged to make ends meet," Adelberg said.
To capitalize on every dollar of their trimmed budgets, local nonprofits reassess how they can best respond to the community's fluctuating needs. For example, the Boys & Girls Club of Greenwich, which provides educational programs to local youth and has recently witnessed "lower gift amounts," allowed its afterschool program to grow in accordance with its popularity, said Kathy Seiden, the club's director of development.
"We constantly evaluate our programs and change them to keep up with demand and the children's interests," Seiden said.
However, in order to maintain services upon which the community has come to depend, some organizations have been forced to make sacrifices.
"The priority was providing the highest-quality services," said Joy Haenlein of Abilis, which provides services to individuals with developmental disabilities. "As a result, the staff has not grown. We have kept them lean."
The donation drop-off is also evident among the town's cultural amenities. In 2008, the Bruce Museum reduced its budget "considerably," resulting in a 5 percent or 10 percent pay cut for all employees, said Liz Wooster, the Bruce's director of development.
Its staff called upon community collectors to produce cost-effective exhibitions and scaled back the Bruce's signature philanthropic event, the annual Renaissance Ball, from 500 guests before the recession to about 350 for this year's June 2 bash, Wooster said.
Diane Rosenthal, executive director of Literacy Volunteers, which provides English language programs to local residents and is funded by United Way, claims that nonprofits are obligated to respond to the decline in contributions by further kindling the passions of donors.
"It's important that your supporters believe in what you do," Rosenthal said. "You must communicate the results of what you do. They want to see the impact of their dollars and ensure that they're making a good investment."
Nonprofits invite such engagement from donors in the form of fundraising events from elaborate galas to family-friendly walks for causes as part of the town's vibrant social scene. Greenwich resident Sabrina Forsythe, who has made philanthropy and event-planning her full-time occupation for 25 years, said that stretched finances have had little impact on her fundraising strategy.
"We simply endeavor to make the events more fun and thus desirable to attend," said Forsythe, who has chaired some of the town's most prominent benefits, including those for Greenwich Hospital, Greenwich Adult Day Care Center, Bruce Museum and YWCA.
Though nonprofits recognize the generosity of the community, they dismiss as a misconception the view that need does not exist amid Greenwich's affluence, nonprofit directors said.
"Giving to charity is the best investment with the best return we can get," Shapiro said. "It may not be in your pocket, but it is providing hope for a better tomorrow."
Nicole Narea is a special correspondent for Greenwich Time. She can be reached by email at email@example.com