On August 13, 2002, 17 chief executives of non-profit groups in Nevada gathered at the Four Seasons Hotel in Las Vegas for a roundtable discussion of challenges and issues affecting their profession. The roundtable was a part of Nevada Business Journal’s monthly Industry Outlook series. Those in attendance represent charitable institutions, foundations and other non-profit organizations from both ends of the state. The group engaged in an enlightening discussion of such subjects as fundraising, developing community awareness and partnering with the business community.
At the meeting, each representative offered a brief overview of his or her organization, and identified its most immediate challenge.
Edward Guthrie: I am the executive director of Opportunity Village, an agency that provides vocational training, employment, family support and other services connected with mental retardation and other intellectual disabilities. We help primarily by finding jobs and we employ about 400 people with severe disabilities. Our biggest challenge is the ongoing expansion of service. Even in an economic downturn, people are still moving to Las Vegas. Many of the people over 35 who apply for services at Opportunity Village have retired here with their parents from someplace else. They keep coming whether there is a good economy or a bad economy.
Ken Richardson: I am the executive director of the Nevada Donor Network. We are the organ and tissue bank for Southern Nevada. I am also secretary and treasurer for the National Kidney Foundation and president of a local volume supplier. Our biggest challenge is awareness and acceptance of organ donation and transplantation as a valid medical therapeutic option. We do receive significant federal support through the Medicare program. However, raising awareness and getting people involved and interested in organ donation is our biggest challenge.
Anne Cory: I’m president and chief professional officer of United Way of Northern Nevada and the Sierra. Probably the biggest challenge for United Way is that everyone thinks they know what United Way’s mission is, which is to collect money in the community and funnel it to non-profits, when, in fact, United Way is much more than that. It’s bringing folks together to identify problems in their communities, bringing them together to work on how to solve those problems effectively and creating coalitions and community movements to improve lives.
Ed Skonicki: My biggest challenge is to find a way for people to learn about Catholic Charities. When people think of Catholic Charities they only think of the homeless people, but as a matter of fact, Catholic Charities has 20 different programs. We provide a wide range of services, from adoption to helping homeless seniors, and almost everything in between. We supply all the Meals on Wheels, and as the senior community continues to grow, our challenges become that much more critical. On the opposite side, because seniors are seeing their retirement funds being reduced by the stock market, we don’t have as many people donating, because so much of our donor base are senior individuals. We’ve received a considerable amount of funding from the state, and when state revenue goes down and [politicians] look for places to cut, the easiest places are in the support of human services.
David Blacksmith: I’m the executive director for the Las Vegas Rescue Mission. Essentially our mission is to provide services for homeless men, women and children. We do not receive any funding from the United Way, nor do we get any funding from government sources. Our biggest challenge is building awareness in the community, because we are totally reliant upon individuals to support us.
Jerry Meyer: Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth runs several programs to help those between the ages of 13 and 21 who are living on the streets. The biggest challenge we face is that most people don’t recognize youth as being homeless people. Right now low-end estimates put the homeless youth population between 500 and 750 right here in the Valley. This is something we are trying to eradicate by offering them a drop-in shelter between the hours of 4 pm and 8 pm. Our long-term plan is to build a full-time shelter for homeless youth here in Vegas.
Mike Lubbe: I’m CEO of YMCA of Southern Nevada. Our mission is to serve kids, families and seniors through a variety of programs. Many of you know us from gym-and-swim type of activities, but we do a lot more than that. Our biggest challenge presently is just managing the growth and expansion of services, along with finding adequate funding resources to do that.
Janet Blumen: I’m with the Foundation for an Independent Tomorrow. We help people build foundations so their tomorrows can be independent of public assistance. We do that by helping people get the resources they need to get a job that pays enough so they can support their families. Probably the biggest challenge for all of us is communication, but not only in telling the community who we are, but also in cooperative and intra- and inter-agency communication. Unless we all work together, we are working, if not against each other, certainly in a duplicative fashion that isn’t really maximizing anybody’s productivity. The only way to avoid that is to have communication so that each agency knows what resources are available and can access those resources.
Myra J. Davis: I’m the executive director of the Alzheimers Association. Presently there are 32,000 people in the Las Vegas Valley with Alzheimers or related dementia. We provide services for those persons as well as their caregivers. Our fastest-growing population in the U.S. is seniors. And of course we do have younger people as well who have early-onset Alzheimers. It’s important to realize that 75 percent of the people who have Alzheimers are cared for in their home. Families are providing these services without the benefit of Medicare or Medicaid. That averages about $14,000 annually, plus someone usually has to give up a job in order to care for the patient at home. It is a devastating problem. It costs businesses anywhere from $80 billion to $100 billion annually. By 2010 we will have, not just 4 million people with Alzheimers, but 14 million people.
Cathi Poer Smith: I’m executive director of Candlelighters for Childhood Cancer of Southern Nevada. The biggest challenge in Southern Nevada is we do not have a research and teaching hospital here, which means that the 500 families dealing with childhood cancer in Southern Nevada have to travel out of the state a great deal of the time in order to receive treatment. Children with cancer are largely invisible – people just don’t think of children as having cancer and yet it is a big problem. We will hit 50 new diagnoses this year and we are already at 12 deaths this year.
Steve Chartrand: I’m the president of Goodwill. The purpose of Goodwill is to help our neighbors who are disabled get a paycheck on a regular basis, to get the job training they need and then find a job. The greatest challenge we are facing is managing growth. In our core business, which is our donated goods, we’ve built two stores this year, while growing our services at the same time.
Dee Ladd: I’m the president and CEO of Sunrise Children’s Foundation. Our biggest challenge is [letting people know] that we are not affiliated with Sunrise Hospital. We are a separate entity, we raise our own money and make our own decisions. It costs a little over $3 million a year to provide the services for our 12 educational programs to keep children well. We are statewide now. We partner with Washoe County School District as well as Clark County School District, and we are in Pahrump and Mesquite as well. Our services and programs include the teen pregnancy prevention program, Baby Think It Over, the PAT program to teach parents how to teach their children, and home instruction for parents of preschool youngsters. We run five WIC Clinics – three in Las Vegas, one in Pahrump and one in Mesquite. Our newest program is an anti-smoking educational campaign for children in middle schools. We write a lot of grants, so we receive funding from federal and state sources, as well as several private foundations. Our biggest challenge is to letting the community know exactly what we do.
Susan Strang: I am executive director of the Las Vegas affiliate of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. Probably we are best known for the Las Vegas Race for the Cure. Our service area is Clark, Nye, Lincoln and Esmeralda County, which is about 68 percent of Nevada’s population. Nevada is growing so quickly – we are a very young community. We are finding that if we want to fund a program we have to create it. A lot of that is educating people how they can be in the breast cancer program while they do what else they do. I know all of us are struggling for resources and the more we collaborate, the farther we can make those resources go.
Willi Baer: Big Brothers and Big Sisters has several local programs. We have the youth intervention program where we match children who are first-time offenders. We have a couples program, as well as our traditional one-to-one program. We also have a school-based program where a mentor can be at school for just one hour a week and mentor a child. One of our biggest challenges, besides fundraising, is finding people who are willing to give up an hour to three hours a week to be a friend to a child. I think we all would be remiss if we were not actively out there forming partnerships with [businesses] and seeing what they can do for us and we can do for them.
Lamar Marchese: I am president and CEO of Nevada Public Radio (KNPR). Our mission is to enhance the quality of life in Nevada through operating public radio stations in Las Vegas, Panaca, Tonopah and Ely. We also operate 11 rural translators covering 49,000 square miles. We operate a regular reading service for the blind and the print-impaired. Our most challenging problem is keeping up with growth.
Deborah Verges: The Boys & Girls Clubs of Las Vegas serves 12,000 children from 12 facilities throughout Southern Nevada, and we are growing rapidly. I’ve been here almost five years and we have gone from a $2.5 million budget to a $5 million budget. Much of our costs are fixed – we’ve got to pay our employees, we’ve got to pay the light bill, we’ve got to pay the insurance. So the whole issue becomes finding the necessary dollars to do the things we need to do. We also need to communicate to this community that Las Vegas is a large city with large-city problems that cost big dollars to deal with.
Suzanne LeBlanc: I’m the executive director of the Lied Discovery Children’s Museum. Our mission is to provide an enjoyable learning experience for Southern Nevada residents and visitors, with a strong commitment to serving an economically and culturally diverse audience. In addition to exhibits and programs in the arts, sciences and humanities, we have a large early childhood initiative and a very strong program for low-income, at-risk teenagers. We provide job training, help them get into college and provide leadership development. With the current economic conditions, our biggest challenge is making a strong case for the importance of education and culture when basic human needs in the community are so great right now.
Connie Brennan (Nevada Business Journal): I was curious how everyone was affected by the events of Sept. 11 and the Red Cross problem. Would someone care to comment on that?
Skonicki: Sept. 11 was a immediate issue for us. Right after Sept.11 and up to November, our funding just sort of dried up. As the holidays come, we are very dependent upon those frozen turkeys and hams that are given by the casinos to their employees. Usually they give some to their employees and order a couple hundred extra for us. If the employees don’t pick up their ham or turkey, it comes to us. This last Christmas, all of [the hotels’] attention went to the people who were hurt by layoffs, so instead of having a frozen turkey supply that would last me normally until October, I ran out in March.
Cory: The other issue that arose from Sept. 11 is the issue of trust, accountability and transparency. We’ve been lucky in Northern Nevada in that we’ve managed to keep our funding level, but we worked much harder for those funds. With every corporation and every individual donor as well, we were questioned more about how the money is spent and how we account for it.
Guthrie: The Salvation Army was the charity that received all the donated goods after Sept. 11, even though nobody was going to transport used goods all the way from here to New York. For a few weeks, our donation calls went from 100 calls a day to 10. We ended up buying donated goods from the Salvation Army by the trailerload so we could provide jobs for our people in the thrift stores. We also do a fair amount of business with donated vehicles and many people decided because of the economy, they were going to postpone getting a new vehicle. We lost $40,000 a month in donated vehicles in November and December alone. Our contract with Nellis Air Force Base is a wonderful job opportunity for our people, but when airmen were deployed, that meant fewer meals served each day. The last way we got hit is that many of our contracts at our work centers are with the hotels, the airlines and convention services. They didn’t have any customers and so we didn’t have any customers either. Donations of clothes and vehicles are back to normal, but the airlines and hotels still really haven’t come back.
Richardson: There’s also the trust issue. I think all of us felt somehow violated by the events of Sept. 11 and it caused us to trust one another a little less. As the media focused on Sept. 11’s horrific events, it resulted in some of our causes getting somewhat lost and falling through the cracks.
Strang: I think one of the most interesting insights from Sept. 11 for me was how much more capable people are of giving than they allow themselves to be on a normal basis. How great it would be if we could just have that little bit of urgency for our causes. How can each of us, on an ongoing basis tap this urgency and remind people of how easy it is to give their cash, their human resources and their time.
Smith: I think it highlighted some of the holes in our local safety net. First of all, our donations went to zero, even through the holiday period. It was a good thing we had some funds in reserve, because otherwise we would have been out of business. In addition, many resort workers got laid off and lost insurance for themselves and their families. We were desperately scrambling for resources for these families to help them just get through the period until the hotel jobs came back. When they came back, [the hotels] put people on part-time with no benefits. It really highlighted for me that the Las Vegas community doesn’t have some of the safety nets for people that some other communities have. We need to look at our infrastructure of social services and see how we can improve in that area.
Verges: We are seeing more of a long-term effect now as a result of United Way not raising as much money and then deciding to put the emphasis on funding the dislocated workers who were affected by Sept. 11 and not the children of the dislocated workers. We took a 30 percent cut in United Way funding. In addition, many of the parents who used to pay us a certain amount every week were laid off, so we are down $75,000 a year in income from parents of the children we serve. Of course we aren’t going to charge them (if they can’t afford to pay) but we still have to spend the money to provide the services. As for the Red Cross scandal, we didn’t feel it much then, but because of Enron and the other recent events, we are feeling effects now. Everyone is much more nervous. We’ve always had pretty tight standards in our accountability – people are just asking about it more now.
Baer: The really small non-profits that are just starting out are basically living hand-to-mouth instead of getting themselves a solid moneymaking venture that they can rely on when such an emergency happens. When you are living from event to event, as some of the non-profits do, you’re not going to make it no matter what. Non-profits have to operate like businesses. Non-profits are a $50 billion industry in the United States.
Blumen: We had planned an endowment campaign that was all set to go on the 13 th of September, and obviously we canceled it. Now we are thinking again about how many years have to go by before people feel sufficiently economically healed to be able to make a long-term commitment to a nonprofit to a charitable contribution. And, if we are lucky enough to get the money and operate like a business, where do we put that money? How do we get a decent return on our funds?
Marchese: We raised an endowment two years ago and I know how hard it was to raise that money. So when I see my financial statements every month and see that we’ve lost money, it really hurts.
Blumen: Until the economy as a whole gets into a better comfort zone, we’re just going to have to figure out the best way to maximize our resources and continue to perform as best we can and not to expect to recover until the base of our economy recovers.
Baer- We were starting a capital campaign right when Sept. 11 happened too. We were going to stop, but someone from a marketing firm said, “If you stop, you aren’t ever going to be able to catch up. You’ll be left behind.” So we went ahead with it. Our board members are working harder and we may have lost a little bit of time, but we are still moving forward.
Cory: Going back to the statement about non-profits operating as businesses, certainly there are many ways that we do operate as businesses and it is important that we have the financial controls and reporting, but what we do is so much more complex than managing to the bottom line, because we are managing to a mission. Many of the small non-profits that look so unnecessary from the outside have a constituency and a mission – in many cases their concern is, if they are not in operation, no one will serve those clients. In partnering with businesses, it can be difficult to communicate why decisions are made because we have a different basis for decision-making. The other pressure we have that businesses don’t is the pressure of administrative costs. Of course, donors don’t want to see their money used for administrative costs, but if we don’t have administration, we don’t have operations to effectively carry out the programs it is our mission to provide.
Marchese: One thing to remember is the law that says, “Business has to do well before it can do good.” The economy right now is not very good, and 85 percent of charitable donations come from individuals. The money is with individuals, and that is where we really need to be directing our fundraising efforts, rather than chasing corporate and business dollars.
Guthrie: Corporations have the resources to help with communications and that is probably our best partnership, as far as getting advertising for our organization. In terms of ongoing regular corporate contributions, if you are building your operations on those you are going to be severely disappointed. I think you have to go on the individual contributor.