Business

Shirley Leung

Boston 2024 works to add donors, retain early backers

Group trying to keep the cash flowing through difficult stretch

Boston 2024’s benefactors in the $100,000-and-up category include Sandy and Paul Edgerley.

Bill Brett for the Boston Globe/File 2014

Boston 2024’s benefactors in the $100,000-and-up category include Sandy and Paul Edgerley.

It is like a never-ending political campaign, and while millions of dollars have been raised, supporters will need to open their wallets again if they want a victory in the general election.

The difference is that this candidate is Boston 2024, and it’s got big problems. At times, it seems like a whole city has been against what is supposed to be a feel-good event, hosting the world’s top athletes. At other moments, it seems like the United States Olympic Committee is conspiring to strip Boston of its designation to bid for the 2024 Summer Games.

Advertisement

So who in their right mind would give money to this operation now?

Steve Belkin, for one, still believes. The Boston entrepreneur and former owner of the Atlanta Hawks basketball team contributed $100,000 last fall and plans to give more. His reason: The Olympics can get all of us to focus on how to make the city better, such as fixing the MBTA.

Get Talking Points in your inbox:
An afternoon recap of the day’s most important business news, delivered weekdays.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

“Our city has challenges, and I think this makes us address those challenges,” Belkin said.

Jeff Bussgang, a cofounder of Flybridge Capital Partners, will be writing a check, but more than money he wants to rally colleagues in our high-tech and biotech economy to get behind the Games. In his mind, it’s an opportunity to tell the world about the technology the region can produce — from personalized medicine to electric bikes.

“Inside Boston, we think we have this really strong global innovation brand,” Bussgang said. “In truth, the world believes that Silicon Valley is where the future is being invented. We need to market Boston as a global innovation hub.”

Advertisement

Bussgang hasn’t decided how much he will give, but even with all the missteps of Boston 2024, he doesn’t feel like he is throwing good money after bad.

“This is a startup. I am used to working with startups. Startups don’t execute flawlessly,” he said. “We’ve got nine years to build a company — and work out the kinks. I am more tolerant of hiccups.”

People with more money than they know what to do with may still be willing to bet on a Boston Olympics, but that can’t be the norm. Boston 2024 needs to come up with a better plan for venues and fine-tune its financing strategy before even bigger checks roll in.

That new plan won’t come out for a couple more weeks, keeping some potential donors in a holding pattern. No doubt poor poll numbers — more people oppose an Olympics in the Boston region than support it — have also spooked some well-heeled supporters. The bid’s opponents have complained loudly about the danger of cost overruns and taxpayers footing the bill.

The bad publicity and its impact on fund-raising makes me wonder whether money is tight for Boston 2024. By my count, based on publicly available information, the group is spending, on average, more than $800,000 a month to prepare the bid, paying public relations consultants to architects. During the first quarter, the group raised, on average, just under $1 million a month in cash. The fine print will tell you that former Boston 2024 chairman John Fish and his wife, Cyndy, along with his company’s foundation, made up at least a quarter of all cash and in-kind donations in the period.

Despite Boston 2024’s new era of transparency, Erin Murphy, its chief operating officer, wouldn’t disclose how much cash on hand the nonprofit has, saying only “we are bringing in more than we are spending.”

Murphy said the group is meeting its fund-raising goals and has brought in $14 million in cash and in-kind contributions from companies, individuals, and foundations. She said Boston 2024 will need about $75 million to prepare the bid, including more than $60 million in cash. The International Olympic Committee will pick a winning city in 2017.

Murphy said the group is expanding its pool of supporters and expects some early donors to contribute again.

But some are like Amos and Barbara Hostetter, who are not at the moment in a giving mood.

The Hostetters made a personal gift of $250,000 in November, and they were recently approached again. The answer was no, said Jim Canales, president of the Barr Foundation, the nonprofit set up by the Hostetters using a fortune made in the cable television industry.

Canales did not know why the couple isn’t participating in the second round, but said the Hostetters were initially interested in how the Games could spur transit improvements and long-term planning in the city.

As for the Barr Foundation, Canales said, the nonprofit has no position on the Olympics and has not explicitly been asked to give. The bid “relates to a lot of issues we care deeply about,” he said. “We’re very interested in tracking this.”

Eastern Bank gave $100,000 in January, right after the USOC selected Boston as a candidate in the global competition to put on the 2024 Summer Games. The bank hasn’t decided whether it will write another check, but so far it has no misgivings.

“We don’t regret it at all,” said Richard Holbrook, the bank’s chairman and chief executive. “We still believe it’s a topic worthy of exploration.”

Right now, Boston 2024 is like a presidential contender who engineers an upset in the Iowa caucuses, but stumbles in the New Hampshire primary. The group needs a big win with its “2.0 plan” to survive. Otherwise the campaign is over.

Shirley Leung is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at shirley.leung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @leung.

Correction: Because of a reporting error, an earlier version of this story incorrectly mentioned how much Boston 2024 is spending each month on preparing the bid.

Loading comments...
Real journalists. Real journalism. Subscribe to The Boston Globe today.