’Tis the season for charities to bare (almost) all

/ Source: The Associated Press

Miss December is wearing nothing but a Santa hat and a smile. Oh, and holding one strategically placed cat.

Chandra Gates decided the Humane Society of Jefferson County was a worthy enough cause for her to bare it all — well, some of it — for a nude-calendar fundraiser.

“I’m shy about the picture but definitely proud of the cause,” said 39-year-old Gates, an animal caregiver there. “I was big on the fact that the cat was tame and wouldn’t be running off.”

The Humane Society in the city of Jefferson, about 50 miles west of Milwaukee, is one of many nonprofit organizations from Australia to Wisconsin selling tastefully nude 2007 calendars, although one philanthropy expert says the practice is, er, overexposed.

A group of women ranging in age from mid 50s to early 70s in Yorkshire, England, pioneered the idea in 2000 when they sold a calendar of discreet nude photographs of themselves to raise money for cancer research. The women, whose story inspired the 2003 movie “Calendar Girls,” raised $2.55 million through sales of 800,000 calendars as well as book and film royalties.

The women have released a 2007 calendar, the group’s third, that has a photo of the women — clothed — with Prince Charles.

In Gates’ black-and-white photo in the Humane Society calendar, she is pictured from the waist up, holding a cat against her bare chest as she stands in a snowy yard.

Humane Society executive director Lisa Patefield said the calendar’s other pictures are equally artistic. Her group expects to raise $30,000 through the sale of 1,500 calendars.

“For nonprofits, it’s getting tough to raise money,” Patefield said. “In order to be competitive in fundraising, you have to come up with something new, something exciting.”

Short-term solution?
But one philanthropy expert suggests calendars are only a short-term solution for charities looking to maintain long-term viability.

“From a fundraising point of view, it’s probably more appropriate to look for people who care about the (charity’s) mission — people who can help financially or with time, with talent,” said Peter Rea, a business professor at Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea, Ohio.

Some customers say they buy nude calendars to support a cause even though the calendar will sit in a drawer.

Bill Collar, the president of the Muehl library board in Seymour, Wis., bought a calendar last year featuring six local librarians au naturel but strategically covered by oversized books.

“We put it away as a keepsake. I’m not really comfortable with putting it up in the living room,” said Collar, 63. “We purchased it for the purpose of supporting the library.”

Rea said such an example shows that charities might be better off selling products their customers would actually want and use.

Some groups, including the Jefferson County Humane Society, said they don’t plan to make calendars in subsequent years because the originality factor is gone. But the Calendar Girls in England are still getting strong demand for their latest run of calendars, said Clare Lipscombe, press manager for Leukaemia Research in London, the fundraiser’s beneficiary.

“It might be difficult for other groups but we haven’t found people losing interest,” Lipscombe said. “Maybe because these girls were the original ones who started it all.”