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Thursday, Sep 28, 2023

NON-PROFITS—National Non-Profits Thinking Local

There are ways in which a charitable organization is no different than a business. There is a bottom line to consider; stakeholders to satisfy; a mission to accomplish; and strategic decisions to make. In Los Angeles, one major decision that larger, national charities must grapple with is how to adequately service a metropolis that sprawls across 469.3 square miles. Is one office enough? Is the Valley so different from the rest of the city that it needs its own unit? How a group addresses these questions depends in part on its mission and its potential client base. For example, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, with a relatively small target population, has only one office in each Southern California county. Orange County is headquarters, and Los Angeles handles fund raising for the region, explains Helen Johnson, director of field operations for California. In contrast, the American Cancer Society (ACS) and the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) both offer more services and have multiple offices in Los Angeles, including locations in the San Fernando Valley. According to regional coordinator Derry Schroer, MDA has offices in metro Los Angeles to serve communities from Malibu to the South Bay, including downtown plus another location in Burbank that covers the San Fernando and Antelope valleys. “In each area with an office, we have support groups and do fund raising. Through the money we raise, clients visit clinics, support groups and the camp for kids at no cost to the family,” explains Schroer, adding that MDA works with people suffering from one of 40 neuromuscular diseases. Having multiple offices make it easier to fundraise, asserts Schroer. “Because we have the Burbank location, we’re better able to access the community and be more available for committee meetings.” She says most funds raised are kept locally, but a portion is forwarded to the national office to help underwrite scientific research. ACS has nine offices with units in the San Fernando and Santa Clarita valleys. “We are trying to be accessible to the needs of the community so that people don’t have to bridge wide distances to go to a particular unit of the American Cancer Society,” says John E. Lazar, director of community services. Money flows both ways ACS conducts cancer awareness educational campaigns in schools and communities and does most of its fund raising on a regional basis. However, Lazar says there are some units that have unique events such as San Gabriel’s Cattle Baron Ball. This season the San Fernando Valley unit is slated to join forces with its neighbor to help with the event. “Fund-raising dollars go back to the region, which funds the unit,” says Lazar, adding that a percentage of the money is also sent to the national office for dispersal to research hospitals around the country. “But because Los Angeles has so many research facilities and hospitals, a lot of the money comes back into the region.” While having offices in the San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles maximizes fund-raising efforts and localizes services, the strategy can sometimes be a challenge, says Lee M. Cassidy, executive director of the Direct Marketing Association’s Non-Profit Federation. He says much depends on the structure of the organization. “The reasons to open other offices [in some cases] is to have a local program while the national does all the fund raising,” Cassidy says. “National says, ‘We will parcel these funds out according to some formula.'” “What might happen,” continues Cassidy, “is some people will say, ‘We’re the richest state in the country and we’ve raised the most money; or we’re running more programs than any other chapter, and we should get more money.’ So you have a continual tug between national and chapters.” Conversely, Cassidy says that when most of the money is raised locally, some people question why so much has to be sent to national headquarters. “Having multiple offices almost creates this struggle,” says Cassidy, adding that there is one exception. “If the local offices are service delivery units only, that tends to mitigate it.” While Cassidy recognizes that these turf battles definitely do occur, he doesn’t see them as big problems for the non-profit community as a whole. “It can be a major problem for some individual non-profits to the extent that it’s not resolved and re-resolved.”

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