Nevada’s non-profit groups have faced hard times over the past two years, due to the national economic slowdown and the after effects of Sept. 11. To see how they have adapted to face this changing environment, we asked leaders in the non-profit field to convene at the Four Seasons Hotel on October 14 to discuss the challenges and issues they face. The gathering was part of Nevada Business Journal’smonthly Industry Outlook series. Connie Brennan, publisher of Nevada Business Journal, served as moderator for the meeting. Following is a condensed version of the discussion.
Connie Brennan: Tell us a little bit about your organization, what your mission is and the biggest challenge you face.
Ed Guthrie: Opportunity Village is the largest community-training center for people with severe intellectual disabilities in the state of Nevada. We provide jobs for over 500 people with severe intellectual disabilities, and paid about $1.5 million in wages to people who most people consider unemployable. Our service contracts employ people with moderate-to-severe disabilities. We serve 800,000 meals a year to airmen at Nellis Air Force Base and we clean about 750,000 square feet of commercial and government office space. Our biggest challenge is finding work for the people who are the most severely disabled.
Dan Goulet: The role of the United Way in Southern Nevada is to generate resources for about 130 local programs. Our biggest challenge is meeting community needs in existing programs, while trying to shift dollars and community agendas around emerging needs as they arise on a daily basis. It’s a balancing act.
Mike Lubbe: The YMCA conducts a lot of programs for kids, but we also do programs for seniors, and our biggest challenge is being undercapitalized. We have great participation in our programs within a couple of miles of where our facilities are, but that’s only a small percentage of the total population. Our challenge is to grow as rapidly as we can to keep up with the demand for our services, and, of course, that requires fundraising. It also requires a lot of collaborating with other groups. We’ve been able to expand by working with the city of Las Vegas. They provide buildings for us to use, and we provide the programming, and that’s worked out relatively well over the last couple of years.
Sylvia Cortez: I represent Las Vegas Friends. We are a new 501(c)3 organization to raise funds for stem-cell research. It’s something very close to my heart because I have a daughter who is in a wheelchair as the result of a car accident. We will start with our initial event, a New Year’s Eve gala. Funds generated from ticket sales will go to the Reeve Irvine Research Center, and proceeds of the silent auction will benefit the community enrichment program for people with disabilities here in Las Vegas. Aside from raising money that night, our family will match the funds each organization receives.
Dean Collins: Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation is an organization made up of volunteers, a tremendous board of directors and a lot of family teams who come together to raise money for diabetes research. We have continued in steady growth the last couple of years. The community is very gracious and supportive of the cause of Type I or juvenile diabetes, and our mission is to continue to raise as many dollars as possible in the shortest amount of time. Some remarkable research has come our way in the last couple of years with islet cell transplantation, so we’re just turning the corner in raising enough dollars to find that cure once and for all.
Patrick Leary: Catholic Charities represents 18 separate divisions, beginning with adoption and going all the way to senior services. We’re the second-largest provider of social services in the state of Nevada, after EOB. We are a very well-kept secret. Most people do not know that Meals-on-Wheels is actually a part of Catholic Charities, and we have a Senior Companion Program as well as RSVP, which allows seniors to use skills they acquired in life to help the community. At the St. Vincent’s Plaza, just a little north of downtown [Las Vegas], we have our main campus, where on a given night we will house 1,000 people. We are working with Clark County trying to set up special shelters for the winter. Our residential program is really the heart and soul of what we do. Hopefully, we can take people from homelessness and give them the necessary skills they need to get back into the workforce. Predominantly, we are funded by government grants, and our big problem now is that, as we move people through this transition from homelessness to self-sufficiency, they don’t have a place to live. We run 120 units of single-occupancy apartments, but they’re constantly full with a waiting list.
Tracy Cotton: I am the executive director for the Center for Academic Achievement and Outreach, based at UNLV. We are the largest educational assistance program in the country, and our mission is to provide alternative and traditional educational opportunities for those who come from low-income and first-generation college backgrounds. We provide academic assistance services for more than 15,000 young people and adults in Nevada. Our biggest challenge is to raise additional funds. When you are attached to a state-supported institution of higher education, it’s perceived that any contributions are going to that institution, when, in fact, we are 100 percent self-funded through grants and donations.
Steve Chartrand: The purpose of Goodwill is to provide job training and job placement services for citizens who are disabled. This year we’ll provide services to about 750 citizens, and we also have 290 full-time employees who are not part of our client base. We generate approximately 90 percent of our revenue through the sale of donated, gently-used items and new goods in our seven stores. Probably the biggest challenge we’re facing is finding the right employer matches for the clients who are going through our job-placement program. We have just kicked off a three-year capital development campaign for the new Goodwill/Good Neighbor Center that will house all our training and services. It will also have a retail store and a processing center where we will process all of our goods. Once we get this facility up and running, we should be able to generate enough profit through our retail stores to fund all our service programs, so that’s our long-term goal.
Susan Strang: I’m Susan Strang, executive director of the Las Vegas affiliate of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. Our mission is to eradicate breast cancer as a life-threatening disease by research, education, screening and treatment. We don’t do any direct research – that’s guided by our national organization, but we do make a contribution for the citizens of Las Vegas. With the help of some really great community partners, we have had some excellent publicity, and so people know us and our events, but it hasn’t necessarily motivated them to increase their giving or participation. Perhaps we are almost too well-known. Because our name is out so much, people assume we are doing better than we are. We also have a responsibility in continuing to educate people about what we do with the funding we raise on a local basis, because the majority of our funding stays right here in Las Vegas to service women and families who are affected by breast cancer diagnoses.
Deni Conrad: HELP of Southern Nevada has been serving the community for almost 34 years. Our mission is to help individuals either obtain or maintain self-sufficiency. We do that through five programs: emergency resource services, job training, weatherization, (we go out and weatherize the homes of low-income individuals so they can afford to pay the utility bills), community alternative sentencing and a senior program. Two things are great challenges for us. Government grants are being reduced substantially, and most of us have relied heavily on those grants for long periods of time. Because our community is growing at an explosive rate, our greatest challenge is trying to provide services, because the increasing demand is outstripping our capabilities.
Candace Ruisi: Women’s Development Center provides social services and affordable housing. We started over 13 years ago with transitional housing for homeless women and children working toward self-sufficiency and financial independence. Over the years, we found that there were no places for the women to move into that were affordable, because they weren’t being paid a livable wage. We then started to acquire, rehab and maintain affordable housing stock – not just for women, but low-income families, single parents with children, also low-income seniors. We’ve done very well in expanding and have built new-construction senior housing. In all our programs, we provide social service components. We also offer down payment assistance for first-time homebuyers. We have been successful in bringing families from homelessness into home ownership. I also see a change in the federal government and even the local government, in the amount of giving and the direction of their giving. There has been a shift, and in some ways that’s a little scary. We can’t just build housing without having support services to go with it, because then we’re just warehousing people and they’re not going to be able to get out of that cycle. Finding employment opportunities that offer livable wages is also a very big challenge here.
Jan MacKenzie: I am the executive director of the Make a Wish Foundation in Sparks. Our organization grants wishes to children with life-threatening illnesses, to infuse their life with strength, hope and joy. I would say the biggest single challenge for Make a Wish Foundation is that there is a perception that our children are terminal. That is not a requirement to get a wish granted. Through modern medicine, miracles and family support, a life-threatening illness does not necessarily have to be terminal. Doctors and families are very reluctant to bring a child forward and allow them to have that “terminal” label put on them. I would echo something Susan said. I think Make a Wish is such a well-branded name that everybody thinks we’re extremely well-funded. We enjoy some great national partnerships, so you’ll see very slick ads in very expensive magazines, but we are struggling just like any other grass-roots local organization to fund our programs. Of the money we earn, 2 percent goes to the national office and 98 percent stays right in the community, and we don’t get money from any source other than our community.
Fred Schultz: Foundation for Positively Kids is a relatively new organization, founded in 1999. Our mission is to care for children who have long-term chronic illnesses – kids who have to be sent out-of-state [for treatment] because they have feeding tubes or breathing tubes or those kinds of things. Surprisingly, here in this state, there’s no place for these kids to go after hospital discharge. There’s no long-term respite care, no daycare, no hospice care and no home health agency that specializes just in pediatrics. So our mission is to make these four services available locally. Currently, we’re in Phase I, with our alternative therapy program. We have about 130 kids who are seen for a number of long-term chronic illnesses, and we do music therapy; hippotherapy (which is riding horses), infant massage and stimulation and those kinds of things. We’ve seen some great results, so we’re making a difference. Our other challenge, as Mike said also, is that we’re under-capitalized, and as a new non-profit, we don’t have much name recognition.
Steve Mues: I’m the CEO at St. Jude’s Ranch for Children, which started in Boulder City in 1967. Since that time, we’ve served about 750 children who were abused, neglected or abandoned. Currently we have 43 children on our campus at Boulder City, and we also operate two campuses outside of San Antonio, Texas. One of our greatest challenges right now is finishing a life-transition center for kids who graduate out of the foster care system but still need support services, as well as structure, guidance and counseling. We’re within two or three weeks of completing the building, but are still looking long and hard to find funding for program money to provide the resources for those kids. We work closely with the foster care system in this area, and we are looking to build avenues of funding beyond state money.
Janet Blumen: The Foundation for an Independent Tomorrow helps people get jobs that pay enough so they can support their families without having to rely on public assistance. We help them break the cycle of dependency, once and for all. Every client is taken in, given counseling and guidance to set a vocational goal. We then help them design the program, we buy everything they need to be ready for that goal. We provide books, school supplies, rent assistance, food vouchers, transportation assistance, childcare, food, clothing – whatever it takes. We put the whole program together and mentor and follow clients through the time they’re in school, to make sure they’re doing okay and following their program. We help place them in jobs and mentor them through their first six months on the job to make sure that they’re, in fact, able to support their family. We have two big challenges. One is interfacing with other members of the non-profit world in what is a consistently moving target – who has money where, and whom can we partner with? Whatever we can’t get from another source, we pay for. Our second challenge is to continue to raise the bar on behalf of our clients. When we started this, $9 an hour was what a single parent needed to be able to support himself or herself and a child in Nevada without public assistance. I read a report the other day, that for a parent with two children, it’s now close to $15.75 an hour. This is a quantum leap, because the universe of jobs that pay $9 an hour with upward mobility is obviously a lot bigger than the universe of jobs that pay $16 an hour.
Landa York: Candlelighters for Childhood Cancer of Nevada is an organization that’s been here in the Las Vegas area for 25 years. We work with the families of children who have been diagnosed with cancer to alleviate the uncertainty and loneliness they feel during that time, and to bridge the gap through education, support and services to those families. Our services include everything from rent and utilities to counseling for siblings, parents and the diagnosed child, to parties for families to give them opportunities to feel like they are normal. Childhood cancer is not just a single-person illness – it affects the entire family. Often, if there are two parents working when the child is diagnosed, the family loses one of those incomes due to the need to care for the child. Candlelighters tries to fill the void that’s left when that income is taken away. It often takes up to 60 percent of a family’s income once their child has been diagnosed, whether it’s for medical needs or for changes that have to be made in the family’s lifestyle. We are working hard right now to kick off a branding campaign in January to make the community more aware of what Candlelighters is and the services we provide. We receive no state or federal funds. Everything we do comes from grants from foundations, individual donors or fundraisers.
Donna Glasgow: The mission of the Desert Southwest Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association is to provide education and support services for victims of Alzheimer’s and their families. We have several challenges, partly because everybody thinks of Alzheimer’s disease as a disease of the elderly. Now, with research and testing, we’re diagnosing Alzheimer’s in much younger people sooner. We have victims in their 30s. Another problem is that a lot of people don’t understand the effect Alzheimer’s has on the victim’s family, and how it’s causing problems throughout the whole community and through the workforce. Over 70 percent of the people who have Alzheimer’s are kept at home and cared for by a loved one, which causes that person to miss work. The other challenge we have is keeping up with the demand for our services as the community grows. A lot of people here don’t know about us either, and they don’t know the services we provide. One of our key services we provide is a respite care voucher, which allows $500 twice a year for family members taking care of an Alzheimer’s patient to have somebody come in and take care of their loved one and give them some time away. Most of our donations come from families who have had a family member suffering with Alzheimer’s, but they don’t have a lot of money to give, so we need to get more support from the community and from businesses in Las Vegas. This disease affects their workforce, and will continue to affect it. Over 100,000 people in Southern Nevada are dealing with Alzheimer’s, and it’s going to get worse before it gets better. The other key thing we’re working on right now in Nevada is advocacy. We do not have a facility in the state of Nevada that will take an Alzheimer’s patient who is combative, so they are generally sent out to another state, usually Utah. Nevada helps pay for that, which is costing us money. We need facilities here that will help take care of those kinds of patients.
Willie Baer: Big Brothers Big Sisters provides positive, carefully-screened adult mentors for children, and we have several programs besides the traditional one-to-one program, which has been in effect since the beginning. A few years ago, we decided to branch out and do school-based programs, and we also provide mentors in schools. We’re initiating a faith-based program, going into churches to recruit, because recruitment is our biggest challenge – finding people who will commit to being a big brother or big sister even for a short period of time. We also have a youth intervention program where first-time juvenile offenders are sentenced, if you will, to become a little brother or a little sister in our program. We currently have over 500 matches here in Las Vegas, and another 150 in Reno, where we opened up two years ago. We partner with other non-profits to do mentoring programs, and we would be happy to come in and train and work with any of your groups to get that going.
Ann McGee: I am the founder and national president of Miracle Flights for Kids. We started here in Las Vegas in my apartment many years ago, and I’m proud to tell you we have just completed 30,000 flights. Most of our flights come from the Las Vegas area, but we are helping children all over the United States and internationally. The advent of the Internet made us very popular. We are actually bringing children in from Azerbaijan, Egypt, Honduras, London – all over the world. Our challenge is to keep up with growth, and we were hit very severely by Sept. 11 because of the fact that we use aircraft, and all of a sudden insurance companies didn’t even want to talk to us. What we’re trying to do at this point is put together cause-related marketing relationships with major companies. One of our other biggest challenges is to brand ourselves. The moms find us, but when it comes to the donors, they don’t know who we are or they confuse us with Make a Wish.
William Raihl: The Salvation Army has been a part of Las Vegas since 1946. It operates in 110 countries around the world, but each operation is locally mandated. I oversee operations in Henderson, Mesquite, Pahrump and North Las Vegas, as well as service units throughout Clark County. We have comprehensive services. Our Lied campus on Owens Avenue is what we consider the homeless campus. We have vocational training programs and a drug and alcohol treatment program. We have the only shelter in the state for those homeless who are mentally ill, allowing them to stabilize their medications, get some training, get some skills so they can become independent. In Henderson, we have an adult day care service, as well as an adult day care service for mentally retarded adults. We have 60 units of senior housing in North Las Vegas. We have youth programs at many of our facilities that deal with kids at risk, especially dealing with gang prevention. We provide housing opportunities for people with AIDS. We just secured a new facility in Pahrump, and our programs there are growing. We certainly see the need for permanent, affordable housing. What we’re finding is a revolving door. Families are going through the process of homelessness every one or two years. One reason is that they’re underemployed. They have jobs, but no benefits, so the first time someone becomes sick or injured in the family, they go back to square one. Until we can really solve the problems of underemployment and low wages, we’re never going to be able to impact homelessness as we would like. Our biggest challenge is, of course, stretching the dollars we have. Although the community’s growing, and our donor base grows, the other base is shrinking – government dollars, industry dollars from businesses.
Brennan: I’m curious to know if there is a forum for non-profit organizations to get together.
Baer: Yes. There’s a brand-new forum called the Nevada Association of Non-profit Organizations (NANO). They meet monthly and have 20 or 25 members.
MacKenzie: The Association of Fundraising Professionals in Northern Nevada is very active, and one of the things they do through email is network with each other.
Conrad: There’s an organization of social service providers in Southern Nevada that meets monthly to exchange information: who has rental assistance, who has utility assistance, who has turkeys or Christmas gifts for the holidays? We work together to try to fill the gaps.
Ruisi: There are so many collaborations in this community that it is difficult for a multi-level agency to attend all of them. There’s the Southern Nevada Homeless Coalition, the Nevada State Affordable Housing Coalition, there are three different task forces for domestic violence. It takes really hard work to develop collaboration between the agencies and relationships with their staffs. We need to be comfortable enough with each other that we can pick up the phone and say, “How can we help each other?” It’s a big part of our job, because we all have something to contribute.
Conrad: We’re trying to get leverage with each other to help clients. I might send them to Candice if they need housing, she might send them back over to me for other things, and the same thing with Catholic Charities. In the social service area, we do work that way.
Brennan: Do any of you see yourselves in competition with other non-profits for the declining dollar?
Conrad (and others): Absolutely.
Brennan: That leads us to the branding issue. How do you make your non-profit stand out amongst all the others?
MacKenzie: You get creative with events and pitches.
Ruisi: You try to offer the best services and delivery system you possibly can. It’s okay for us to compete for dollars. That’s the nature of what we do.
Conrad: The competition in some respects is frustrating, but in other respects it’s extremely healthy. The majority of funding now is being based on business decisions: “Is that agency able to do that program? Are they accountable? Can they provide the outcomes they say they can, and are the results measurable?” When I go in to defend grants, the feedback I get is, “You say you served x number of people. Where are they now? Did you get them off the street for 24 hours, or are they actually working towards taking care of their family?” Funders are looking at that whole picture – not just the program, but the ability to deliver that program and the ability to show long-term results.
Leary: That’s very true, and competition helps with that. The demand for accountability is strong now. I welcome it, but it means you’ve got to really know what you’re doing.
Guthrie: If you don’t have competition, you never raise the bar, and so it forces you to increase the quality of your services.
Brennan: What advice would you give a local business looking to align itself with a non-profit? How does the owner make sure that the organization is credible and accountable?
Conrad: A number of us have to be accredited through the United Way, which is a pretty in-depth process. They use corporate volunteers to come into our offices, look at our financials, our structures, our accountability, our board makeup. I don’t receive United Way dollars, but I still get accredited by the United Way because that accreditation says, “We are doing the right things. Those dollars are accountable.”
Collins: We really need to focus on results. If we don’t give our donors and our corporate partners the results they’re looking for, they’re not going to fund us anymore. We’ve got to do a better job of communicating our results. Since Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation raises dollars for research to find a cure, we brought in an individual who recently went through islet cell transplantation to speak at our luncheon to show folks, “Here’s what we’ve accomplished. We are making some progress.”
Conrad: Businesses I talk to want us to speak the same language they do. They have to account to stockholders and to boards of directors, so we’d better be coming in with results they can take to those same people and show that we are making a difference, that we are accomplishing whatever it is they donated the money for, and we can verify it.
Ruisi: I agree with that, but I think they’re also looking for financial accountability from the non-profits. We should expect our non-profits to run as businesses. It is not just how we help clients, it’s also how did we manage that money, what were our fiduciary responsibilities? We’ve been given a public trust. If something negative happens, it affects people’s perceptions of all non-profits, so it’s even more imperative we have those financial procedures and internal controls in place.