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Better Business Bureau Offers "Giving Guide" to Arts Groups, Other Charities

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Now that Santa Claus has entered Macy's following his ride down Broadway during the annual Thanksgiving Day Parade, the last holiday season of the century has officially begun. And individuals as well as corporations who are considering giving a Yuletide gift to charity have an official guidebook to help them.

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) has just published its "2000 New York Giving Guide," a comprehensive index to some 350 local charities. The 54-page survey, subtitled "The Smart Donor's Guide to Area Charities," provides information on each nonprofit group listed within its pages, giving the charity's mission, its use of funds, and its compliance with public accountability and managerial standards. The booklet also includes whether or not a charity meets BBB standards. This year, 79% of the charities reviewed for the publication "met or exceeded the BBB's rigorous standards for charitable solicitation," said Ronna Brown, president of The Education and Research Foundation of the Better Business Bureau Serving Metropolitan New York.

Not surprisingly, several of the charities listed in the "Giving Guide" are arts groups. Arts service organizations, like the Theatre Development Fund (TDF) and the Arts & Business Council, Inc., which promotes partnerships between two often disparate communities, are two such entities.

In addition to the myriad museums, symphony orchestras, public libraries, and historical preservation sites, are several performing arts companies. These include such major players as The Brooklyn Academy of Music, Dance Theater of Harlem, Joyce Theater Foundation, Inc., Manhattan Theatre Club, New York City Ballet, Roundabout Theatre Company, and The Public Theater/New York Shakes-peare Festival.

Not all of the groups listed in the "Giving Guide" have received the BBB's seal of approval. For instance, a review of the criteria for HB Playwrights Foundation, indicates that it did not appear to meet the public accountability standards established by the BBB for the purposes of this overview, in that with an "A-1" ranking next to its entry, the group did not provide an annual report upon request. However, the organization's mission is certainly clear. A review of the HB entry indicates that 88.09% of its revenue for the fiscal year ending Aug. 31, 1998, was used for program services, with 0% spent on management and general expenses, and 0.21% on fund-raising. However, the group's recent $300,000 or so in revenue raised by the celebrity-studded reading of Edward Albee's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf," starring its original Martha, Uta Hagen (The "H" in "HB"), reveals that the foundation has ratcheted up its fund-raising priorities.

TDF, with its wide-reaching range of services provided to New Yorkers, including its discount-priced theatre ticket booths in the World Trade Center and on Duffy Square, reported on its FY 1998 IRS 990 form that it receives less than 10% of its total revenue from public support. This fiscally responsible arts service organization also reported in its most recent filing that its total support and revenue exceed expenses by $857,637. However, TDF too, did not provide recent financial information to the BBB, nor did the organization substantiate upon request that funds are applied to programs described in solicitations, according to its listing in the "Giving Guide."

To order a copy of the "Giving Guide" for $7.60, call the BBB at (212) 533-6200.

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