The nonprofits that canceled events at the Mar-a-Lago Club expected their charity balls to raise more than $10 million during the 2017 season, and to draw some 6,000 deep-pocketed donors.
It’s difficult to pinpoint the precise financial fallout from the exodus of events from President Donald Trump’s winter White House. But the Chronicle of Philanthropy compiled numbers based on permits filed with the town of Palm Beach. In those documents, charities disclose their anticipated donations, costs and attendance.
Palm Beach has a longstanding permit system that town officials say is designed to protect the wealthy residents whose generosity makes the season full of lavish galas possible.
The town “is unique and it is an attractive community in which to solicit funds,” Town Attorney John Randolph said. “That is why the Town Council years ago, and town councils since, have felt it necessary to enact these regulations.”
The town has regulated charity events since at least the early 1960s.
Town regulations allow people or organizations to host up to two fundraisers a year on the island. They must apply to the town clerk’s office for a charitable solicitation permit for each event.
Among the 23 charities that have said they’re leaving Mar-a-Lago, permits are available for 17 of them. For their events during the 2017 season, those charities said they expected to raise a combined $10.8 million, to spend $3.4 million to host the events and to draw attendance of 5,820.
The most lucrative events were hosted by the Dana Farber Cancer Institute and the American Friends of Magen David Adom, which expected to bring in $1.4 million each.
The Dana Farber Cancer Institute said it raised more than $2 million at its 2016 ball.
The Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure expected to bring in $1.25 million at its 2017 gala.
The charities leaving Mar-a-Lago expected to bring in an average of $636,765, to spend an estimated $210,000 and to draw an average crowd of 342.
Among the charities that have said they’ll stay, a permit is available for only one. Achilles International said it expects to raise $200,000 at its event in November 2017. It expects to spend $40,000 to host the event and to draw 200 donors.
Charities began bailing from Trump’s venue after the president made multiple remarks that seemed to support the actions of white supremacists protesting the removal of a Confederate statue in Charlottesville, Va. One of the protesters drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing a woman.
Palm Beach’s regulation of charitable events serves three purposes — to inform the public who is soliciting, to make sure they are properly credentialed and following the law, and to “attempt to dissuade a proliferation of fundraising events on the island,” Town Attorney Randolph said.
Florida law requires charities to register with the state and to fully disclose their identities, the purpose of their solicitations and how they intend to use the donations. Any person or organization applying for a town charity event permit must be registered with the state, Randolph said.
In 2015, the Palm Beach Town Council rejected the idea of raising the annual event limit to three. Mayor Gail Coniglio said the two-event cap protects the island’s philanthropic population from being overwhelmed by fundraising events staged by organizations from all over the nation and the world.
Coniglio said she is “wholeheartedly supportive” of the charitable events on the island, and that the regulations are there to protect the residents by ensuring everything is legitimate.
“Hopefully the money goes to where the organization is attesting,” she said. “It’s always in my mind preferable that the money that is raised here stays in Palm Beach County and that [the charity] has roots in the community. It is the most generous community I think we could ever hope for.”
She noted, however, that in cases where the donations go to benefit organizations in, say New York or Massachusetts, that there are many Palm Beach residents with ties to those areas.
The town issues about 150 permits a year, then-Town Clerk Susan Owens said in 2015. She said more organizations were holding second events than in the past.
It’s unclear exactly how the wave of cancellations might affect Mar-a-Lago’s bottom line. The permits don’t break out how much the charities expect to pay to Mar-a-Lago directly, and how much goes to outside vendors such as party planners and florists. Also unclear is whether the charities will forfeit deposits by holding events elsewhere.
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