Four gay and lesbian community groups that were the designated beneficiaries for last spring's Cherry 9 circuit party will not be receiving any Cherry donations this year, party organizers announced last week.
In its press release, the Cherry Fund said that the annual party "while profitable overall, failed to produce sufficient net income to support planned donations to four Washington-based GLBT organizations."
Cherry Fund vice chair Paul Richard said that the revenues for the weekend did exceed the group's expenses. However, each year the Fund holds some of the revenues in reserve to begin planning for the next year's event, usually from $10,000 to $25,000. Richard did not have a specific figure for the revenue that would be used as reserve for the 2005 event, but said it "would be under $10,000."
While this is the first year that the event has not produced sufficient revenue to make any charitable donations, it is the second year in a row in which Cherry has experienced a significant drop in money raised. Cherry 7 in 2002 raised a total of $173,000 that was distributed to nine gay and lesbian organizations. Cherry 8 in 2003 raised just $44,500 that was distributed to seven organizations.
Richard said there is no single reason for the event's fundraising decline, although he pointed to a significantly lower attendance at the Saturday night main event party at Nation.
"Definitely attendance was down," he said. "The Saturday night event was down between 750 to 1,000 fewer people....You only have to do the math -- at $60 a pop [for admission], that's going to significantly impact your revenue."
The Saturday event was held at Nation nightclub, the site of the long-standing Saturday night Velvet party. Richard acknowledged that having a higher-priced event at the same location many local participants regularly went to may have contributed to the downturn in attendance.
"I think [having the event at] Nation did have some impact, particularly with the local crowd," he said. "But for those from out of town who don't see it all of the time, it was less of a concern."
Corporate sponsorship for the event was more difficult to come by, Richard said, because of a number of factors from the state of the economy to the political implications of supporting a circuit party in an election year. Of those sponsors who were providing financial support, Richard said "one or two" are still outstanding, but declined to name them. He estimated there was under $10,000 in sponsor contributions outstanding, and feels confident that those will be settled.
Cherry 9's designated charities were The Center, The Mautner Project, The Gay and Lesbian Leadership Institute and the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League (SMYAL).
Bruce Weiss, executive director of SMYAL, said that in what he sees as difficult times for fundraisers across the board, the situation with Cherry is disappointing but understandable.
"It certainly has an impact because every dollar that we bring in makes a difference," Weiss said. While SMYAL had included the planned contribution in its annual budget, Weiss expects that it won't have a noticeable impact on the organization because they have reinvigorated their fundraising.
"A lot of organizations have struggled with the economy and donations being down," said Cheryl Pearson-Fields, deputy director of the Mautner Project. "It's absolutely been a positive relationship [between Mautner and the Cherry Fund] and we've been very fortunate to have been a beneficiary. It's unfortunate that they're having difficulties this year."
Colleen Dermody, a board member with The Center, said that the lack of a contribution won't affect the group's substantially.
"We're well aware of how difficult it is to raise money," she said.
All of the groups contacted said they looked forward to working with the Cherry Fund again.
Richard said that the Cherry Fund is actively looking at ways to ensure a successful Cherry 2005 (the naming scheme for the party will change in the coming year), including looking for venues that allow for high attendance and the ability to collect more revenue on drink sales and other aspects of the weekend. One possibility would be a return to the Post Office Pavilion, the site of Cherry 7 and previous events.
"It was the board's intention to try to get out ahead of this and let people know that we are aware of the problems from last year and are trying to rectify them," Richard said of the group's announcement of the shortfall. "And we hope that our local and national constituency continues to support our work."