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ESCOM speaks up

The Executive Service Corps of Manasota, Inc. (ESCOM) is to nonprofits what SCORE is to for-profit small businesses: Its volunteers, all retired business executives, counsel nonprofits on a range of organizational issues-everything from board development to strategic planning, marketing and time management. But until now the nine-year-old organization has been a whole lot more low profile than SCORE.

That's changing, say chairman Les Fishman and vice chairman Bette Seigerman. The group of some 30 volunteer consultants is actively recruiting more, and in June launched a Web site, www.escom-manasota.com, where nonprofits "can share ideas, concerns, questions, complaints and problems," says Seigerman. Among its new recruits is Kathie Roberts, who recently retired to Sarasota from her longtime job as human resources director for the Rich's department store chain. There, she was responsible for 16,000 employees in nine states.

ESCOM already has counseled in various capacities the Smith Center for Therapeutic Riding, Southeastern Guide Dogs, Suncoast Center for Independent Living and Girls Inc.

"A lot of nonprofits are just doing crisis management; we try to convince them to take a long view," says Fishman, former president of a food service equipment company who served on the board of an inner city hospital in Chicago before retiring to Sarasota in 1995. "And even mature organizations have to step back and re-evaluate."

ESCOM charges a minimum fee for consultations. For more information call 954-2653.

Venture capital for the arts

Sarasota County Arts Council supporters are on the chicken-and- peas circuit this summer trying to convince opinion leaders the arts benefit the pocketbook as well as the soul. They're speaking to businesses, civic groups and government leaders about the results of their recent economic impact study that shows Sarasota nonprofit arts organizations contribute nearly $123 million annually to the local and state economy.

The study, conducted by Americans for the Arts, was based on surveys of 43 local nonprofit arts organizations and 510 audience members. Among its findings: Sarasota's arts industry produces 2,956 full-time equivalent jobs and pays $5.6 million in local taxes and $9 million in state taxes; and audiences spend an average $34 per person on event-related spending-restaurants, lodging, parking, souvenirs, babysitters, etc.-beyond the ticket price.

The arts council plans to use the study to bolster its argument for the necessity of more community support-from corporate sponsorships and individual philanthropy as well as finding new designated funding sources from city and county governments, perhaps from real estate doc stamps, although Caswell says the group is examining many ideas. Last spring, she cited study results in lobbying State Senate president Jim King for restoring arts funding at the state level. (To mixed results; the state legislature voted to restore for one year the cultural funding that was so severely axed in 2003, but refused to restore the designated trust funding that also was eliminated last year.)

This was the first economic impact study of Sarasota's arts industry since 1991, and Caswell says her organization is examining where the growth has been in the industry in the past 13 years.

"The arts in Sarasota are taken for granted, and assumed to be a fat cat," Caswell says. "No one realizes how much they give back to the community, both in the private and public sector. We want to point out that the arts are under-funded. This should stimulate the argument that the arts can only be strong with some venture capital."

Sweet rewards at a year-end luncheon

Many nonprofits host end-of-the year luncheons to showcase their accomplishments to volunteers, donors, community leaders and the media-and to raise a little money as well. But most don't finish with the kind of sweet reward the Family Law Connection experienced this spring at its Law Day luncheon.

Guest speaker and civil rights hero Congressman John Lewis, D-GA, was so impressed with the organization and its supporters that he turned back his $2,000 honorarium. The gift will "enable us to connect two families with family law attorneys," says executive director Denise Roberts.

"He's the real thing," says board president Kathy Killion."

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