August 21, 2007
A conversation with David Baldwin

I finally had a chance to catch up with David Baldwin, the president of the Foundation for the Retarded, which is the fundraising arm of the Center Serving Persons with Mental Retardation, and ask him a few questions about the deal to buy the land the Center sits on that was formally approved by City Council last week. Since there are still tasks to be completed before the actual closing, which should take place on or about September 1, he didn't want to discuss that other than to reiterate what he's said before, that the deal is a "fair one" for the City and the Center, and that the Center is "thrilled" to have gotten it done. So with that, we had instead a nice conversation about the current and future plans of the Center, and how it hopes to bring them about.

The first thing we talked about was fundraising. The Center has actively fundraised for years, since among other things they need to provide scholarships for their residents, which is to say they need to cover the difference between what residents and their families can pay for their care, and what their care costs. The Center had been raising on the order of $1 million annually to provide for these scholarships, and more recently had gotten into the $1.5 million range, with a goal of $2 million for 2008.

But the challenge has gotten significantly greater for the Center, which has become in a way a victim of its own success. Over the past half century or so, the life expectancy of a resident at the Center has nearly doubled, from mid-thirties to mid-sixties. That presents several issues, since residents are now likely to outlive their parents, who are usually their main means of support, and they now have to deal with the normal effects of aging, which tends to make one's daily upkeep more expensive. Baldwin compared this challenge to riding a bicycle that keep accelerating, and you have to pedal faster just to keep up.

To meet these ever-increasing demands, the Foundation's board has ramped up its fundraising efforts. In particular, they have taken the following steps:

1. They have brought on board a professional fundraiser who has broad experience in the Houston philanthropic community.

2. They have formed a committee on the board to identify and prioritize their short term needs, which include scholarships, deferred maintenance, and the expansion of existing services.

3. They are studying their long term needs, in order to continue providing what Baldwin termed "state of the art" services to their residents.

Despite the uncertainty of the past two years as the process with the city worked its way to a conclusion, which gave some donors pause since they were unsure what would become of the money they'd give, the Center has been successful at meeting their fundraising goals. Baldwin said that the deal that's now in place gives the Center the flexibility it needs to keep meeting those goals going forward. One unexpected benefit of the Center's public plight has been a boost in its profile, which has brought forth more people willing to help them. Baldwin called that a "godsend" and said they hoped to build on their raised stature.

That about covers our conversation. There will be some kind of public "ribbon-cutting" ceremony to celebrate the completion of the sale of the land, which should take place some time between the September closing date and Novemberfest, which is the Center's annual fundraiser. I hope to attend that and perhaps to ask a few more questions about how things are going. In the meantime, congratulations again to the Center, and best of luck to them going forward.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 21, 2007 to Elsewhere in Houston