Sitting in his office at Youth Emergency Services & Shelter in Des Moines, Executive Director Stephen Quirk reflected on how Des Moines recently earned the distinction of being America’s wealthiest city, because, according to NBC’s “Today” show, regular folks can live a rich life.

Greater Des Moines residents are not only “wealthy,” but generous as well, Quirk said. This is a good thing to Quirk, whose organization in January kicked off a campaign to raise $3.7 million to expand the Youth Emergency Services & Shelter facility. Expanding the shelter at 918 S.E. 11th St. by 18,000 square feet would add 32 more rooms for children in crisis, expand on-site classrooms and add space for recreation and activities. 

However, YESS is not the the only local nonprofit asking for millions in donations. More than 25 nonprofit organizations are currently in major fundraising campaigns, according to the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines. While some organizations have met or are closing in on goals, the ongoing capital campaigns in Greater Des Moines are collectively seeking almost $168 million.  

On one end of the scale, the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden is in the middle of a multistage campaign to raise $18 million. On the other end, groups like YESS have smaller price tags but needs that are just as great.

Many organizations delayed or suspended fundraising campaigns during the recession, so now there are several groups trying to raise money. An informal, nonscientific survey of Business Record readers (see Page 10) suggests that there may be the beginnings of donor fatigue among corporate and business givers.

However, Kristi Knous, president of the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines, said the number and scope of the fundraising initiatives right now is not significantly greater than at other times. Nor has giving been down. 

“We just had a banner year in terms of funds given to the Community Foundation,” Knous said, adding many of the organizations complete feasibility studies and approach repeat donors long before deciding to launch a campaign. 

“These organizations typically go into this with intelligence and with a board of directors and community champions leading the efforts,” Knous said.

Quirk said he doesn’t see signs of donor fatigue either.

“Donor capacity in our community is very broad,” he said. “If (donors) are interested in arts, they have something to invest in, but if they’re interested in helping kids, they have something else they can invest in here.” 

Here are the stories of three area fundraising drives.

Social Report: Donors tiring of fundraising requests?

More than 25 Greater Des Moines nonprofits are conducting major fundraising campaigns, according to the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines. A number of those organizations have met or are closing in on goals. The total for all campaigns in Greater Des Moines is  almost $168 million. With a flood of of fundraising following the economic recession, we asked Business Record readers in an unscientific poll:  

Do you feel that donor fatigue is a problem in Greater Des Moines?

Yes, it’s a big problem
“People get tired of getting hit up from all angles. More 501(c)(3) organizations have become aware of this donor fatigue and have started to tailor their ‘ask’ approach accordingly. There is a delicate balance of showing gratefulness, sending good content about the organization you have helped, and asking for more support financially/more hours. No one wants to ‘go to the well’ too many times for fear of seeming ungrateful or greedy and driving donors away to any number of other worthy causes.”
- Jesse Bunney, sales associate, CBRE | Hubbell Commercial

“Those who have never applied for grant money believe that being successful requires someone who can write well. However, development for any sized organization is a full-time business practice. It requires a solid, annual assessment of where an organization is spending its money, making sure that financial resources are being spent effectively, a strategic plan, the human resources to be able to carry out the plan for which donations are being requested, and community knowledge of the organization.”
- Sharon Johnson, independent personal care advocate and marketing generalist

Yes, it’s a slight problem
“Over the course of two years, I’ve nearly tripled  the amount I donate. In my own mind, all of these campaigns have been for very worthy causes. And I suppose I will continue to try to maintain that level of giving going forward. The problem is, when you’re pledging large donations over a three- to five-year period and you’re asked to pledge even more – again long term, and for new campaigns that weren’t on your radar screen – it becomes a problem. I don’t know if I would call it a fatigue problem, but it’s definitely a supply problem for those of us who have limited resources. From a corporate point of view, especially for small businesses, I would like to see tax credits for contributions to economic development and cultural or community  improvements. I think that would be a tremendous boon for these types of campaigns.”
- Connor Flynn, chairman, Lessing-Flynn Advertising Co.

No, there’s not a problem
“Great projects + well-managed non-profits + meaningful conversations with donors will yield support.  This is a wealthy and giving community.   Much of that wealth and generosity is untapped.”
- Todd Fogdall, director of development, Des Moines Performing Arts

“Non-profits raise the quality of living in Greater Des Moines. The independent sector is an integral partner in making the region a great place to live. The $168 million combined total is nothing to the economic growth the non-profit sector supports by providing a greater quality of life. I am grateful for the strong philanthropic leaders of the region who understand how it all works together.”
- Tom Vance

Food pantries see more food insecurity despite improved employment

Organization Name: Des Moines Area Religious Council
Fundraising Goal: $1.3 million
Funds raised so far: $650,000

The number of employed Iowans continues to rise, say state statisticians. So too does the number of people coming to food pantries operated by the Des Moines Area Religious Council (DMARC). Despite an improving economy, more people are using the organization’s food pantry network.

“One thing that is true about our clients is we have not recovered from the recession at this end of the economy,” said DMARC Executive Director Sarai Rice. “If you’re trying to make a living at minimum-wage level, those people have actually lost the capacity to purchase. They are going backwards, and they weren’t in a good place to start with.”

Since 2008, Rice said, DMARC’s food pantry network has seen a “constant increase” in patronage. The number of families using the service increased by 10 percent from November 2012 to November 2013.

DMARC recently moved into the old Central Iowa Shelter and Services building at 1435 Mulberry St., which more than quadruples its space, better positioning the organization to serve area families, said Development Director Kristine Frakes. DMARC has launched a campaign to raise $1.3 million for the purchase and renovation of the building.

“We’re much more prepared to handle a spike in need than we could have ever possibly been where we were before,” Frakes said.

DMARC is an interfaith organization made up of 135 area congregations that contribute to helping  to provide emergency housing stability and child care subsidies, and to operate a network of 13 food pantries in the metro area.

When Rice came to the organization in 2008, its food pantries served 6,000 to 6,500 families a year. The year after the economy tanked, Rice said there was a 60 percent increase in families using DMARC pantries. 

“Once we hit 13,000 families a year, our old space stopped being manageable,” Rice said. “We didn’t have the space for the staff and volunteers to do the work, but what we did have was a 10-year lease. We simply had to ride it out knowing we didn’t have the space we needed.”

The new location offers close to 9,000 square feet of space, 6,000 of which can be used for storage. “We estimate we will probably save $200,000 to $250,000 each year by being able to buy at low prices and store it,” Rice said. “What we can do with that money is turn it into additional days of food for our families.”

Currently, families are allotted a four-day supply of food per month. Frakes said with the savings from the new building, she hopes the organization will be able to restore its pre-recession supply of five days of food a month. Rice and Frakes also hope to utilize the savings to expand the food pantry network’s reach. 

Approximately $1.1 million of the total campaign goal is budgeted for the purchase and renovation of the Mulberry Street space. The rest will be used to stock the shelves it now has to fill.

Youth shelter seeks to keep up with rising need

Organization Name: Youth Emergency Services & Shelter
Fundraising Goal: $3.7 million
Funds raised so far: $1.7 million

At one point, Iowa had 25 facilities dedicated to serving children in crisis. Today, only 13 shelters remain in the state. 

Youth Emergency Services & Shelter is one of them. In response to the decline in services, including the closure of the Iowa Girls’ Home in Toledo just this year,  Executive Director Stephen Quirk said the shelter’s board recognized the need to expand YESS’ facility.

“The kids those shelters served are still out there, and what we realized is we had to come up with a plan to expand,” Quirk said. 

Founded in 1973, YESS provides crisis services and shelter for boys and girls ages birth to 17. Quirk said the organization helps runaways, children who have been declared delinquents by juvenile court, children who have been removed from their homes because they have allegedly been abused or neglected, children who have serious mental health issues, and kids simply in need of emergency shelter care due to personal or family crises. 

“When you take that blend of all five issues, all ages and genders, it’s a pretty tricky, complicated melting pot,” Quirk said. “Very few shelters do that, and we have lots of reasons why we do. We were designed to do that, and we’re sticking to it.”

Over the course of a year, YESS serves between 650 to 1,000 children. The 60-bed facility typically serves anywhere from 45 to 52 kids at one time, and Quirk said he prefers to keep some beds empty so the shelter can take children in need of emergency care. Today, Quirk said YESS has to turn away as many children as it takes in.
Quirk called the campaign a “legacy event” for YESS, which enlisted opera singer Simon Estes to narrate the story of YESS on its website to educate potential donors.

“As an administrator with a passion around youth, knowing there are kids waiting and I can’t take care of them creates a professional, spiritual and emotional challenge,” Quirk said. “We need to build this and be in a position to respond to the next crisis. This is a tough business, and we need to be ready for changes.”

Brain injury center waited a long time To expand

Organization Name: On With Life
Fundraising Goal: $5 million
Funds raised so far: $800,000

Three decades ago, a group of families gathered around a kitchen table with one wish: to create a place where those affected by brain injuries could get specialized care in order to help them get on with their lives.

Those were the first days of Ankeny-based On With Life. More than 20 years later, it is still the only organization of its kind in Iowa, and it has served more than 1,500 Iowans since it opened in 1991, in addition to clients from 22 other states and 14 counties.

“Brain injury is different than other disabling conditions - no matter what happens, you’re still you,” Executive Director Julie Dixon said. “You may look fine, but the brain is the most complex thing on the face of the earth. It affects so much - every single thing in your environment – so there has to be a unique rehabilitation process that understands that.”

The organization was started in the 1980s by eight families who met each other in an acute hospital setting, all of them were affected in some way by brain injuries, Dixon said. After several years of work, the city of Ankeny sold $4.8 million in municipal bonds to start a facility that specialized in brain injury rehabilitation. This is the organization’s first fundraising campaign of this magnitude. It aims to raise $5 million to add an outpatient center, a therapy pool and other renovations to the center.

Over 20 years, On With Life has developed a continuum of care services, Dixon said. Clients who come to stay at the facility come almost exclusively from hospital settings and receive several hours of therapy per day. Children and young adults go the organization’s Glenwood facility. Three years ago, the organization was granted a waiver by the state of Iowa to move a modular home onto its property in Ankeny to open an outpatient facility. However, the waiver only grants temporary permission to continue using the modular facility.

So a $1.6 million outpatient center will be constructed adjacent to the facility. The existing outpatient center will then be converted to on-site family housing.

Another phase of the project will include the construction of a therapy pool, a critical wellness component to On With Life clients. Currently, staff is required to transports patients off-site to access water therapy.

“The pool is something we would utilize every day,” said Matthew Steen, chief strategic officer at On With Life. “It’s so beneficial to patients to be able to get that exercise without putting their full weight on their limbs. It would make a world of difference to them in both satisfaction and outcome.”

Finally, funds will go toward redesigning the facility’s dining area, creating a wellness center with expanded inpatient therapy areas and adding outdoor therapy grounds. The campaign will also finance the addition of inpatient rooms and new multipurpose space for clients.

On With Life has teamed up with public relations and fundraising firm Matchpoint Strategies in West Des Moines. The organization has already raised close to $800,000 of its goal, and Dixon said she foresees being able to start construction of the new outpatient facility on schedule. 

While this is the first time On With Life has held such a large-scale campaign, Dixon said brain injury is something that has become more prominent and visible in recent years than in the past.

“This is fundamentally giving people their lives back,” she said. “That’s the heart of it, and what could be more important than that?”