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Coalition Shows Interrelationship Between Programs, Fundraising

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Nonprofit groups sometimes think of fundraising as somehow a thing apart from programs, putting the two in distinct, separate “boxes.” The Troy Community Coalition proves, however, that the more intertwined fundraising and programming are, the more successful both can be.

For Mary Ann Solberg, the executive director of the coalition, even a fundraising event presents an opportunity to further the group's mission. For example, during a recent celebrity dinner and auction that raised $50,000 in donations, no alcohol was served — a subtle message to the large number of teens in the audience that adults can have fun without drinking. “We believe the coalition needs to model what the community needs to do,” explained Solberg, who added that she overheard one attendee remark, “I never paid $125 for a chicken dinner and no booze and had such a good time.”

Another fundraiser had a similar duality of purpose: a three-point basketball shooting contest, sponsored in part by the Detroit Pistons, not only generated revenue for the coalition, it also provided local youths with an alternative after-school activity, Solberg pointed out.

Even events that were never intended as fundraisers have wound up yielding double dividends for the coalition: a prayer breakfast intended to recognize the importance of the faith community in prevention efforts quickly became popular among image-conscious local businesses, who began buying tables to attend the annual event.

The celebrity dinner demonstrates not only the coalition's impressive “pull” in the community, but also a deep understanding of what makes Troy tick. More than 300 individuals and companies plunked down $125 per person for a low-frills meal and an address by a local auto executive.

In car-crazy Troy, it turns out, the chance to hear a speech by J.T. Battenberg — the head of auto-parts firm Delphi Automotive Systems — is as big a draw as some past speakers with more national name recognition, like Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler.

The audience got to hear what they came for — Batternberg's take on the recent spin-off of Delphi into an independent firm. But the Delphi CEO also spoke at length about the role corporations must play in drug prevention — much to the satisfaction of leaders like Solberg.

The Troy Community Coalition is now in its 10th year of operation, and judging by the participation at events like the recent celebrity dinner, the group has laid a lot of groundwork with the local business community. Chrysler Corp., for example, gave the coalition $10,000 to underwrite the expenses for the event, making all the money taken in via ticket sales and silent-auction revenues gravy for the coalition. An impressive array of auction gifts also were donated, including trips, dinners at local restaurants, jewelry — even a tugboat cruise.

In return, sponsors get a lot of publicity generated by the coalition, said Solberg. But companies wouldn't get involved with a group like the Troy Community Coalition in the first place if they didn't believe that it was providing something of great value. Solberg's group has solidified its relationship with the business community by providing direct services, including drug-free workplace programs, and backing an initiative to reward firms having comprehensive drug-free workplace programs with lower liability insurance rates. “We never have our hand out unless we are providing something in return,” she said.

The coalition also has been quite businesslike in proving its effectiveness in the local community, added Solberg. “We do significant outcomes research, including data collection and independent evaluation, and we publish our results,” she noted. “Corporations know that drug abuse is a problem, and they are having problems solving it. We've done enough education so that they believe in our numbers … You can't raise money if you don't have outcomes.”

Solberg firmly believes that coalitions need to lean on companies and others in the community for the support. “We're not going to live off of grants,” she told Join Together. “If the community doesn't support you, then you don't need to be here.”

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