Affirmations faces serious budget problems

By |2018-01-16T04:06:39-05:00December 9th, 2010|News|

Tara Cavanaugh

Affirmations Interim Director Kevin Howley talks frankly about the center’s financial difficulties. BTL photos: Tara Cavanaugh.

Snow drifted dreamily outside the center’s floor-to-ceiling windows as the staff at Affirmations served up a hot brunch and friendly conversation to some of the center’s supporters Sunday morning.
But the staff also served up a cold, harsh truth: The center’s budget is a wreck.
Affirmations is facing a huge budget deficit and has made serious cuts in programming and staffing over the past year. On Sunday, the center’s supporters learned the causes behind the cuts.
Kevin Howley, who was assigned as interim director in October after CEO Leslie Ann Thompson resigned in August, said the projected budget for 2010 was $1.3 million, but the center only ended up with $844,000 to work with.
One reason for the big difference? The tough economy, which led to fewer corporate and grant donations. In 2010, Affirmations was supposed to receive $750,000 in such money, but it only got $314,000.
But the financial problems didn’t just start this year.
Affirmations raised $5.3 million for a new space that was completed in Ferndale in 2007. The building boasts LEED-certified design, a large teen area, a cyber cafe, modern decor and plenty of natural light.
The $5.3 million was supposed to help Affirmations own the building outright and not need a mortgage. The new space was supposed to help broaden the center’s activities and attract more donors. But the economic crisis of 2008 and the ensuing financial difficulties of key donors caused the center to lose donations and grants. Affirmations now has a $460,000 mortgage with J.P. Morgan Chase, and it is due in April.
“The mortgage is the saddest part of the story,” said Carolyn Burdi, a former board member and co-chair of the Capital Campaign, the funding campaign for the current building. “But the money (to operate) had to come from somewhere.”
For 2011, Affirmations will cut nearly $250,000 in payroll expenses, $11,000 in programming, and $126,000 in “discretionary spending,” which Howley described as money for ads, conferences, training and other extra expenses.
The only planned increase in expenses in 2011 is $12,000 for utilities and maintenance, because Affirmations needs to catch up on payments to vendors, Howley explained.
“We tried to reduce the depth of the programming, not entire programs,” Howley said. For example, the center reduced its hours, so instead of being open from 1 to 9 p.m., it now opens at 4 p.m.
For now, Howley said, “We’re paying the day-to-day stuff,” but the center is not contributing much toward its future.
“Every non-profit should have three to four months’ worth of cash,” he said. “We haven’t had that luxury.”

Campaign for the Future

Howley explained that the center needs to raise $1.2 million to pay off the mortgage and a line of credit, and bring payables current. To accomplish this, the center launched the Campaign for the Future several months ago. To date, $541,000 has been raised, which includes a recent and unexpected $250,000 bequest from an anonymous donor.
One goal for Sunday’s event was to entice supporters to make a special pledge to the Campaign for the Future, in addition to what they had already pledged for operating expenses.
But until the center reaches its goals, the decrease in hours and programming will continue to be noticed by the community. Alice McKeage, a longtime Affirmations supporter who also co-founded an LGBT network at Ford, said she’s “definitely felt an impact.”
McKeage said her stitching group changed its meeting place from Affirmations to a private home because not everyone could meet during the new hours.
But McKeage, like all of the 100 attendees Sunday, is happy Affirmations exists. She wore her Affirmations t-shirt in support of the center, she said. Her enthusiasm was mirrored in the other attendees who just wanted to learn how they could help.
“I love Affirmations. I had a bad experience coming out, so I’m so glad there’s a place for young people to come,” McKeage said, adding that people who come out when older also find Affirmations comforting.
Jim Townsend, who was elected in November to the Michigan House of Representatives from Royal Oak, also came to the brunch to voice his support for the center.
“I love this organization, and I think it’s extremely important,” Townsend said, after making jokes about Glenn Beck.
Howard Israel, an Affirmations supporter who is also helping select the next executive director, expressed just how important the center is. “Affirmations is symbolic,” he said. “It’s the emotional center of the LGBT community, if not in the state, then at least in southeast Michigan.”

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Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.