Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Binghamton zoo's leadership faulted at meeting

The Press & Sun-Bulletin reported on the annual meeting of the Southern Tier Zoological Society.

The intent of the gathering was for Binghamton Zoo at Ross Park members to get a wrap-up of the year and listen to projections for 2012, interim Executive Director Dave Conklin said. While that discussion did take place, the meeting also took another turn.

About 30 people, including employees, members and others, crammed into a tiny room for the roughly hour-long session in which some expressed dissatisfaction with the zoo's current leadership.

"There needs to be more transparency between the board and the staff," said Patricia Searles, the zoo's education curator.

Employees have a strong connection with the zoo and want to see it move ahead in a positive manner, she said.

Searles spoke up at various times throughout the meeting about concerns the staff has regarding the way the facility is being run, the search process for an executive director and incorporating staff members into the zoo's decision-making process.

She then tried to submit a four-page report of issues raised by staffers, signed by 14 employees, to the board.

"This is not the place for the presentation," Chairwoman Sharon Witte told her, noting the document could be considered Thursday during the executive committee meeting, which is not open to the public.

Searles continued to try to read from the report as Witte reiterated it was not the time or the place, and that she could leave the documents for the board to review later.

"Shut up and let her read!" someone shouted from the audience.

There was a back-and-forth between staffers, others and board members during a good portion of the meeting. A question-and-answer session followed, in which many of the employees' concerns were aired. Among them, according to the document Searles distributed to attendees after the meeting:

» Consistency: Staffers believe there needs to be more stability in the zoo's upper management in order to choose a direction for the staff and the organization.

On Aug. 16, Sheila Green, who served as the zoo's executive director for less than two years, left the facility. At that time, Witte cited a "personnel issue" and wouldn't discuss it further.

Green was the zoo's fourth executive director since Steven Contento retired in 2002 after 17 years. Laura Jane Stewart was fired nine months into the job in 2003, and her successor, Jarod Miller, served for a year before resigning. Mike Janis took over in January 2006 and helped the zoo regain its accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which it had lost in 2005 due to turmoil over previous leadership and finances. Janis left in January 2010, with the board again citing a personnel matter. Janis said he was let go.

» Transparency: Employees want more transparency and communication between the board and staff.

Following the meeting, Witte said employees also need to realize there is a process in place when it comes to airing an issue.

"In any business, there's a defined way to make a grievance or state your position," she said.

» Financial stability: Employees said they are worried that due to financial woes, the zoo will be "unable to address immediate concerns with the maintenance of the exhibits and grounds without another source of funding."

Broome County's 2012 budget contains $286,454 for the zoo, a slight decrease from last year. The zoo's total budget for 2012 is $913,161. The zoo received $295,313 from the county in 2011, which made up close to a third of its $1 million budget that year.

Zoo officials acknowledged funding is tight and that attendance was down in 2011 compared with 2010. Conklin didn't have exact figures regarding attendance, but said it was a "couple thousand." He attributed the decrease to weather and September's flood.

New leader sought
Meanwhile, the search for an executive director continues, and interviews are under way. The field has been narrowed to five candidates, Witte said. A decision could come by March.

Board members have repeatedly said they want someone who understands the business side, as well as the animal side.

According to the job posting on the zoo's website, the director would be "responsible for comprehensive development, implementation, administration and evaluation of the zoo, including fundraising efforts and programs to fund capital needs and service growth, education and capital reserves."

The person also would be responsible for other duties, including long-range plans for the organization, managing the zoo's daily activities and dealing with donor relations, stewardship of funds and board and committee activities.

Conklin, who took a leave of absence from his job at All Ready Printing in Binghamton where he oversees business development, previously expressed some interest in the permanent director job. He no longer wants to be considered.

"This was a lot of fun for a few months," he said of the interim role. "At this point, I'm going to go back to my life."

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Broome Area Foundations Announce Grant Application Workshop and New Uniform Grant Application

The Community Foundation for South Central New York, The Stewart W. and Willma C. Hoyt Foundation, The Conrad and Virginia Klee Foundation, The Roger Kresge Foundation, and the Dr. G. Clifford and Florence B. Decker Foundation are now accepting grant proposals for 2012 on a Uniform Grant Application (UGA) form.

The Uniform Grant Application was created to simplify the process of requesting and making grants. The format eliminates redundancy and will assist grant-seekers in organizing and writing their proposals. The UGA was developed in an effort to streamline the application process and in response to the request of numerous non-profit organizations in Broome. The new application will be available on the foundations’ various websites after a workshop to introduce the format and train grant-seekers in its use, on Tuesday January 24th at 1:30 pm in the Decker Room of the Binghamton Public Library, 185 Court Street.

Media are invited to speak to Foundation Executive Directors at 1pm on that date immediately before the workshop.

The Community Foundation for South Central New York, a nonprofit organization founded in 1997 and headquartered in Johnson City, encourages and facilitates personal and institutional philanthropy throughout the region by managing funds within the Foundation’s endowment that are established by donors to achieve specific charitable goals. From these funds, the Foundation has awarded over $5.9 million in grants to the area’s nonprofits to help address community concerns and improve the quality of life in the region. The Community Foundation serves donors and nonprofits in five New York counties: Broome, Chenango, Delaware, Otsego and Tioga. More information about the Foundation can be found on its website www.donorswhocare.org.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Community Foundation technical assistance workshop

The Community Foundation for South Central New York will offer a free technical assistance workshop on applying for foundation grants. The workshop is open to Broome, Tioga, Chenango, Delaware & Otsego County non-profit organizations and agencies and will be held on TUESDAY, JANUARY 24, 2012 FROM 1:30 TO 4:00pm in the Decker community Room of the Broome County Public Library located at 185 Court St., Binghamton, NY. Check-in begins at 1:00pm, with the workshop session starting promptly at 1:30pm.

Participants will learn about the Foundation, revisions to 2012 grant guidelines, flood relief grants, the new "Common Grant Application" for proposals to participating Broome County foundations, our grant-making process and tips that will improve agencies' funding opportunities. Pre-registration is required on a space-available basis for the workshop and there is a maximum of two participants per agency.

To register, please call the Foundation at 607-772-6773 or send an e-mail to cfscny@stny.rr.com no later than 4:00pm Tuesday, January 17th.

Charities get last-minute boost from donors

CNNMoney report -- Chalk it up to the holiday spirit -- or just smart tax planning -- but charitable giving is looking up this month.

Giving in December is already up 15% from 2010, according to the latest tally by Network for Good, a site that enables donors to contribute to more than 10,000 charities across the country. In November, donations rose 20% over the same month last year.

"This year looks a little better, but not back to pre-recession levels yet," said Katya Andresen, Network for Good's chief strategy officer.

But the best is yet to come. While one-third of all online giving for the year occurs in December, a whopping 22% happens in the last two days of the year, according to Network for Good's online giving study. That end-of-year rush can mainly be attributed to donors looking for some last-minute tax savings.

"It's traditional to think about charity in December and of course, it's the end of the tax year," Andresen said.

Still, with less than 48 hours left in the calendar year, it's unlikely this will be a substantially better year for charities after three years in a row of lackluster giving.

Largest donations of 2011
After sinking in 2008 and 2009, donations still lag far behind pre-recession levels. Total charitable contributions from individuals, corporations and foundations increased slightly in 2010 to $290.9 billion -- but remained below 2007's $310.6 billion, according to Giving USA, a foundation that tracks charitable contributions.

Although Geoffrey Brown, executive director of the organization, says it's still too early to say how 2011 will fare in comparison to last year, "giving is probably going to be flat, if anything," he noted.

Stagnant wage growth, high unemployment, Europe's debt crisis and uncertainty about the economy have weighed on donors, while the government has drawn down support substantially, explained Daniel Borochoff, president of the American Institute of Philanthropy.

"This year was a little better than last year, but, of course, last year wasn't so good," he said.

In a survey by the Chronicle of Philanthropy, 54% of 152 organizations said they raised more money in November and during the first part of December than they had at the same time last year. Nearly 60% of charities predicted they would have an overall gain in donations in 2011, while 28% said donations would fall this year.

"This was a year in which there were certainly disasters both at home and abroad, but not at the scale that we have seen in the past," explained Stacy Palmer, editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

"Even Japan giving was small, it was nothing like the crisis in Haiti," she said referring to the earthquake and tsunami that rocked the Asian nation in March.