Nonprofit organizations make up for cash dearth with creative programs
Ann Metzger would watch toddlers pluck ping-pong balls out of the Carnegie Science Center's splash stations as middle-schoolers tumbled over each other chasing parachutes. Their parents always held back.
“They didn't want to push the 8-year-olds out of the way, but we thought, ‘If the kids weren't invited, I bet they'd get in there.' ”
She was right. When the North Side center started its new 21+ Nights for adults, Metzger, the center's director, said she expected a couple hundred grown-ups. The latest one attracted 1,200 people.
Some nonprofit organizations are squeezing revenue out of innovative programs and events to compensate for shrinking government funding.
The Allegheny Regional Asset District credited Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Oakland with staying ahead of the fiscal curve by beefing up its events schedule to include as many as 375 weddings and celebrations in 2013. Phipps events, which generate between $250 to $15,000 for the Schenley Park venue depending on duration and other factors, account for about one-fourth of the nonprofit's $8.4 million in annual revenue.
The Downtown-based Civic Light Opera pads its ticket sales revenue by contracting with outside productions to build its sets. John Edkins, production technical supervisor at the CLO, helps tackle construction for five or six extra shows a year, often for nationally touring companies based in New York City and Los Angeles.
“We try to keep our bottom line as close to breaking even as we can, but because we're a nonprofit, the shops in New York and Chicago hate to see us at the bargaining table,” Edkins said. “They know our bids will come in a lot lower than theirs.”
The CLO's five-month season feels pretty routine, he said. The seven months “off” are when the real work starts.
“The extra sets we produce add a small percentage to offset our operating costs,” he said. “It's not a gigantic amount, but it covers our overhead and pays for supplies.”
The Regional Asset District distributes money to some of these nonprofits from part of the extra 1 percent sales tax collected in Allegheny County, and that funding has not dropped. RAD director David Donahoe said a decline in government funding, though, left nonprofits struggling to pay their most basic bills.
“We used to see a lot more unencumbered funds,” Donahoe said. “Nonprofits can get grants like we give, but a lot of corporate funders tie their gifts to a very specific project. That's great, but it also makes it very difficult for nonprofits to pay their bills.”
Leaders from more than 5,000 nonprofits nationwide participated in the Nonprofit Finance Fund's sixth annual survey, including 171 in Pennsylvania.
Nearly a third of in-state respondents reported ending fiscal year 2013 with an operating deficit; 42 percent reported a surplus.
Achieving long-term financial sustainability was far and away the biggest concern, among Pennsylvania nonprofits, with funding and diversification distant seconds.
Federal, state and local government support declined in the past five years, according to the report, but almost half of respondents reported hiring staff members, providing professional development for workers, attending networking events and giving raises.
Metzger said the Carnegie Science Center is more self-sustaining than most science centers nationwide, funding more than half its $12 million in annual revenue through store sales, concessions, parking, admissions, special events and fees.
“Our earned income makes up 55 percent of our operating budget; that's really high,” she said. “Your typical art museum might be in the high teens, other types of traditional museums might see 24 to 25 percent. We're very cognizant of our visitors and anything we can do to bring more of them through the door.”
Megan Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Officials identify man, woman killed in apparent Oakland murder-suicide
- Overnight snow delaying schools in western Pennsylvania
- Beloved North Side gardener gets new truck, paid for by her neighbors
- Beaver County man arrested in 24-year-old Clinton County cold case
- Uber gains PUC approval to operate in most of Pa. for 2 years
- New Turnpike Chairman Sean Logan institutes Wolf’s gift ban at commission
- PennDOT says inbound Fort Pitt Tunnel will close around-the-clock this weekend
- Pa. Turnpike claims software fraud, wants $45M
- Fitzgerald nominates mining industry businessman for Finance and Development Commission
- Woman, 77, dies in Monroeville house fire
- Newsmaker: Laurie Sanders