A Battle for Donations Brews By SLAV KANDYBA Staff Reporter Philanthropy in the Valley is alive, but it helps to be a pet cause when looking for a business benefactor. Locally, giving is driven by a few benefactors who donate major money and by businesses that tend to support causes they have a stake in, leaders of the nonprofits and foundations say. Because of the climate, the Valley’s money-raising institutions find themselves in stiff competition for corporate grants and private dollars, as well as in-kind giving. But, volunteering seems to be healthy, with at least one nonprofit (ONEgeneration in Van Nuys) enlisting 1,000 volunteers, and on the corporate side, for example, The Walt Disney Co. employees volunteer hundreds of hours to school through the company’s VoluntEARS program. The problem with the shortage of contributions lies with a number of factors, including how well the economy fares financially and who the executives and the boards at the donor companies are. Of course, how well-run and practical a non-profit or a foundation is has something to do with it. “Relying on corporate and foundation grants is whimsical,” said Robin Keefe, who has worked at a literacy-related nonprofit before founding her own in North Hills called BookEnds. “Climates change within the corporate environment.” On paper, it looks as if the Cal State Northridge Foundation, the fundraising arm of the university, is digging in gold soil. According to statistics from nonprofit monitor GuideStar, the foundation has reported receiving more than $5.5 million in “pledges and grants receivable” in fiscal year 2002 (the latest available data). That’s an astronomical jump from just under $1 million in fiscal 2001. In the 2003-04 fiscal year, the Foundation has raised more than $28.5 million, said July Knudson, vice president for university advancement, who oversees the Foundation. But numbers can be deceiving. For starters, the figures represent “not just cash but in-kind contributions,” said Knudson, who has worked at CSUN for several years after relocating from out of state. “I would be lying if I said that the Valley was an easy community to work with,” Knudson said. And CSUN President Jolene Koester and she are “out at least four or five days a week” attempting to secure financial and other contributions. It’s not necessarily that people don’t want to give, it’s that “we pretty consistently hear that there hasn’t been a strong culture of philanthropy in the Valley in the past,” Knudson said. A 30-minute trip on the freeway away, Los Angeles Valley College Patrons Association has experienced a different problem. “When I came in I looked at our board, we had 11 members and had space for 25,” said Raul Castillo, an executive director at the Association of three years. Castillo said he “had to evaluate each member’s mission” prior to setting the course for the foundation. Castillo also wanted a “diverse” board, so he reached out to the community. Now, the board is comprised of eight representatives of large corporations, eight smaller businesses, and two non-profits. The board had to be diverse because its members would “not only secure money but work with other corporations,” Castillo said. “It comes down to relationship building.” Apparently, that relationship building has come to fruition. Castillo said he thinks “everything is going as expected” and it’s hard to question that: While CSUN and Valley College foundations are doing well, albeit with some grumbling, things sometimes can be rocky at entities such as the Olive View-UCLA Medical Center Foundation. “A lot of the (givers) have tightened up and they get very specific,” said Beverly Froelich, executive director at Olive View-UCLA. And although the nonprofit foundation that supports various healthcare programs has been in the black since 2002, according to Froelich, it’s “cash and equivalent” had dropped almost by half from 2001 to 2002, according to statistics published by GuideStar. The competitive nature of healthcare philanthropy is partly to blame. “I know even when you carefully research to find out if you’re a good match, I find that you might get one out of six grants,” Froelich said. “Even if you develop a relationship with people it’s tougher and tougher.” But things are looking up for Olive-View, as the foundation has signed a three-year agreement to fund its most popular and expensive program, The Arthritis Empowerment Program. UniHealth Corp. will fund Olive-View $90,000 per year for a total of $270,000. Successful non-profits Non-profit organizations are entirely a different breed from foundations. They exist to provide a service that no one else does. This means there aren’t many rival nonprofits the ones that survive are going about their business the right way and have a niche. Non-profits have to compel and convince corporations into giving money. It’s easier to get in-kind gifts, such as old furniture and computers than it is to get cash. But if you’re doing it right, you can do it and BookEnds is a good example. The North Hills nonprofit that recycles children’s books and places them in schools, shelters, family literacy centers and youth organizations, secured a $20,000 grant from Verizon one of the largest lump sums the telecommunications company’s foundation has given in 2004, according to its grant list posted on the Web. Why did BookEnds receive the money, and such a hefty amount at that? It’s because, simply, Verizon happens to espouse the cause of literacy. And, on the receiving end, Robin Keefe, the founder of BookEnds, is well aware of that. “If I’m a great literacy organization and if I apply to a company that only supports cancer research, they’re not going to give (funding) to me,” Keefe said. On the other hand, “Verizon will benefit from a literate population.” But Keefe, who said BookEnds has “termed out for funding” with Verizon. Keefe’s organization is a great case study of how a nonprofit was born and raised, making the right moves on the route to stability and success. BookEnds began with Keefe’s son, now an 18-year-old student at UCLA. One decade ago, when Brandon Keefe was eight, he sat in on a board meeting of a non-profit his mom was involved in. He offered a simple suggestion that later became BookEnds: the younger Keefe said he wanted to donate his used books to kids who need them. Mother Keefe then took the idea, added an adult’s touch and sought the help of Los Angeles-based Community Partners, whose mission it is to “incubate new nonprofits,” she said. Grassroots non-profits are hard to start otherwise. “It’s a long and expensive process to have a 501 (c) (3),” Keefe said. “The reality is only 5 percent of projects become independent.” BookEnds beat the odds, becoming independent in 2002, after four years under the guidance and support of Community Partners. BookEnds’ independence was contingent on getting a board of directors and a financial infrastructure. But that is secondary to the original idea. “The first thing is there has to be a true need for your services,” Keefe said. “We have a very simple solution.” An outpouring of support from the community helped the young non-profit thrive, as well. “You learn very quickly it’s not about a founder and their son, it’s about a community that cares,” she said. Reaching out Having the community on its side meant BookEnds could meet its great needs at minimal cost. For instance, Keefe reached out to a Rotary Club to paint her office. “It’s a huge challenge for a non-profit organization that does not operate on a government contract,” Keefe said. BookEnds has progressively expanded its services. Book donations jumped 74 percent and 34 percent more kids will have access to books. More needy kids get more books, period. And although Bookend keeps delivering Verizon must think so, otherwise they wouldn’t give the $20,000 the non-profit’s IRS forms showed “$100,000 less in income” last year, Keefe said. That’s very bad news for an organization that has three employees and a budget of about $300,000. On the opposite end of the spectrum, CSUN Foundation is getting richer and with financial statements to support her, Judy Knudson said “there’s a real interest in the sense of excitement and anticipation that we are really on the verge of beginning to shift.” While that may be, CSUN Foundation’s grants and in-kind contributions largely come from benefactors in Los Angeles, or “over the hill,” Knudson said. For CSUN, it also helps to have the likes of Chuck Noski, an alumnus who happens to be chief financial officer of Century City-based Northrop Grumman, on its Foundation board. When going to events to ask for contributions, “there’s a difference between when we go as administrators and when Chuck Noski talks to his peers,” Knudson said.
A Battle for Donations Brews