Fund to Offer Alternative for Giving

April 1, 1999

Bill Sasser

Next September when Tulane begins its annual charitable fund-raising drive, faculty and staff who elect to contribute will have an alternative to the United Way. Community Shares of Louisiana, a new public-interest fund aimed at grassroots activism, joined the university's annual community fund-raising campaign through a motion approved by the University Senate on March 1.

"Part of the rationale for this change is that it will increase the interest of faculty and staff in the annual campaign," said sociology professor Jim Wright, who chairs the Senate subcommittee on social issues.

According to Wright, the expectation is that rather than taking contributions away from the United Way, the new fund will increase the percentage of participation and total dollars given. "Community Shares is more action oriented, more focused on funding social-change organizations," said Wright. "The experience on other campuses around the country has been that such funds attract people who may not otherwise give."

Founded in 1997, Community Shares of Louisiana is an alliance of local non-profit organizations raising funds to support "social, economic and environmental justice." In its first statewide workplace campaigns next fall, supporters will be asked to designate their donations to specific organizations.

Thomas Lowenburg, director of Community Shares of Louisiana, said such campaigns offer grassroots organizations an invaluable source of funding.

"Workplace campaigns have proven to be the best way to find and solicit new supporters and to maintain established ones," said Lowenburg. "Various surveys show that people give three to seven times more money at the office than elsewhere."

Current members of Community Shares of Louisiana include the Alliance for Affordable Energy; the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana; Bread for the World, New Orleans; the Fair Housing Action Center; Hope House; Lambda House; the Louisiana Coalition; the Louisiana Environmental Action Network; the Louisiana Health Care Campaign; the Louisiana Injured Workers Union Education Fund; the Louisiana Labor Neighborhood Project; and Seniors with Power United for Rights.

Sociology associate professor Timmons Roberts made the case to the Senate last fall for including the fund in Tulane's annual campaign. "Many of the groups in the United Way are addressing symptoms of problems, not such roots as social inequality, negative practices toward the environment or racism," said Roberts.

"Groups in Community Shares are more directly addressing the disease. I saw the need for more choice and it's a great way for Tulane to be connected to the community."

Roberts predicted that competition will be good for the annual fund-raising drive, noting that 24.9 percent of faculty and staff gave last year. "There are three quarters of us not being drawn in by the United Way," he said.

Alternative funds such as Community Shares have grown rapidly nationwide in the past decade. In 1987, a total of 33 alternative funds raised $28 million; last year, 119 raised $310 million. Universities in 40 states now participate in such funds. Last month Loyola University joined Tulane by including Community Shares of Louisiana in its annual campaign.

"For decades the United Way has provided tremendous support to non-profit organizations that provide direct services," said Lowenburg, who also heads the Alliance for Affordable Energy. "Alternative funds have a sharper focus, allowing donors to support emerging causes and to champion advocacy issues."

Tulane's annual campaign starts Sept. 2. For more information about Community Shares of Louisiana, call 525-0778.

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000