Nevada’s economy has taken a hit in the past several years and Nevada’s non-profits have felt the brunt of that hit. Nevertheless, many non-profits in the Silver State have managed to hang-on and refocus their efforts in the communities. Executives representing several non-profits throughout the state recently met at the Las Vegas office of Holland & Hart to discuss the challenges non-profits face in a down economy.
Connie Brennan, publisher of Nevada Business Magazine, served as moderator for the event. These monthly meetings are designed to bring leaders together to discuss issues pertinent to their industries. Following is a condensed version of the roundtable discussion.
Do non-profits in this state collaborate with each other?
Fred Schultz: We do. We serve a similar population. If we have a child that’s diagnosed with a terminal illness, we’re not licensed as a hospice. So, we work in conjunction with Carole [Nathan Adelson Hospice].
Steve Chartrand: I’ve been in this community 16 years. When I first got here and reached out to my colleagues, Goodwill was not doing very well then. It was not very well received in the first couple years. I think there’s a trend changing that. I know that I’m personally being very active in reaching out to my colleagues. It’s really us getting to know each other, building relationships and then seeing how we can work together. When you do that, you’ll be amazed what synergies and what things you can find are there. It’s a way to, number one, reinvent ourselves, which you need to do in this changing economy, and, number two, maximize the resources we have. That’s probably the biggest challenge we all have, limited resources.
Barbara E. Buckley: One interesting thing we’ve done recently is start information open houses. We supply the coffee and croissants and it’s open to any non-profit in the community. On any given day, we’ll have one or two people from every different non-profit. The value is, while I may know what most of [the other non-profits] do, the frontline staff don’t. I think we need to do more in our own organization to promote that collaboration.
Karen Barsell: In Northern Nevada, if we’re really going to attack an issue, we have to partner together. There is not a single organization in Northern Nevada on its own that can tackle an important issue we’re facing. Partnering is the result of the economy or other things that we couldn’t afford to duplicate or triplicate. Partnering became not just a buzzword but an actual experience we have in every single way. When you sit at a table and decide we’re going to go after a federal grant together, you have to unzip and get pretty transparent with each other. If I have a very good outreach program and you have a really good marketing program and you have a really good handle on finances, we always bring our best aspects to that and then start to partner together.
Courtney Orrock: Everyone wants letters from community partners. It’s become such a huge thing and it’s great that we all want to do that. But, really our donors are demanding that we have those collaborations.
Juliana Pisani: In regards to partnership, the American Cancer Society is the oldest one in this room. It will be a hundred years old next year. There are 225 cancer organizations still battling this awful and dreadful disease. We got together with the Heart and Lung, and we passed the Nevada Clean Indoor Air Act, which was phenomenal. It couldn’t have been done without the collaboration. We know that Nevada is extremely casino and hospitality orientated. We were up against some pretty big dogs in the legislature when it came to this legislation but, it’s very, very important.
Ed Guthrie: Yes, you want to have collaboration, but it’s got to be meaningful collaboration. There’s got to be some way that you can work together to really do something. Collaboration for the sake of collaboration, it’s nice but the most precious resource we have is time. Our staff’s time or our donor’s time, whichever it is.
What questions do businesses typically ask when considering a donation?
Angela Quinn: If you’re starting new, why are you new? Why aren’t you working with somebody else? For Barbara Buckley, her reputation allows her to speak on behalf of the legal community. But my reputation doesn’t allow me to speak on behalf of [another organization] because I don’t have the experience. I think they want to know that you’ll be around five, ten years from now.
Rino Armeni: It’s important for them to know how I’m going to train the students [at the business academy]. We made several presentations with the help of different chairmen from different companies where we have expressed to the audience that one of the things we are going to work on is the character of the individuals besides the study. At the end of the day, when they graduate, we want men or women with character. That’s what [businesses] enjoy hearing.
Do you compete with other non-profits for funding?
Guthrie: Yes and I don’t know that competition is a bad thing. We collaborate. But, monopolies always have crummy service. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a private monopoly, a non-profit monopoly or government monopoly. Eventually the service deteriorates just because it’s a monopoly. You have to have something to offset the service deterioration so a little bit of competition is not a bad thing. I think the service improves for everybody, donors as well as the service recipients.
Buckley: It is irritating though, when you see a non-profit wasting resources. For those of us who are running lean, mean, efficient shops and turning people away because we don’t have enough resources, to see a poorly run, apathetic operation and looking at the money they receive, it’s very frustrating.
Quinn: How much of that is board driven and how much of that is leadership driven?
Guthrie: I think it’s leadership driven. I am empowered to run our organization. The board wants to see that we are doing great work, I think that’s leadership.
Quinn: Isn’t it ultimately, if you have a bad leader and the board of directors is not paying attention and that leader is allowed to continue? I don’t disagree with you. Yet, I feel powerless doing anything about watching resources that I know another really good organization can do a good job with and open up the window and say adios. If there’s an assumption that we are all good people and do the right thing, I’m fine with that. I think the bigger issue is we’ve got boards of directors and we allow them to be bad boards.
How have you been impacted by the economy?
Armeni: These are tough times for everybody. My experience has been that, when I approach people, I don’t get the same amount of money I used to get, but I still get the money. I believe it’s because a lot of people donate through their company. If their company is not in the position to donate, some of them have to do it from their own pocket and they don’t feel comfortable giving you $10, they might just give you a dollar. That’s where I see the challenge right now.
Carole Fisher: One of the toughest things is, we’re still a business. It’s balancing that mission with the best business practice. In my organization it’s a challenge.
Patricia Falvey: What we’ve seen at Catholic Charities, is our client base rise and people who used to be our donors are some of our clients. Our caseworkers are looking at themselves across the counter. They are that close to being homeless or foreclosing. The economy has really hit us hard. We get grants and what have you, but the grant money hasn’t increased at all and the number of clients we serve has.
Schultz: You have to think what program you’re getting into to generate revenue for you. We have a state contract that generates revenue. We have a county program that generates revenue. But, that’s not a grant sitting in your office when you’re looking at your financials.
Sherri Rice: We have a whole new group of people coming in Access to Healthcare Network. We’re adding 1,000 new people a month, on top of the 14,000 people we already have. We formed a patient care fund, which takes grants, funds and private donations. That helps our members when they get stuck. Anybody who gets money from the fund also gets a card that says where it came from, who the donor is and their address. I can’t tell you how many times our members sent a thank-you note to that donor. We hear it all the time. It may be that they only got $40 because we paid half of the primary care visit but they write a note. They then can put a name and a face to something they couldn’t do any other way. Then that $40 made all the difference in the world to that person on their healthcare. That’s been very successful to us.
Is Nevada generous when it comes to non-profits?
Guthrie: I would say that the people of Nevada definitely are. At least 25 percent of our revenue – $4 or $5 million or more a year – comes from individual donors. That doesn’t include capital campaigns to build buildings and stuff like that. When we run the Magical Forest, 75 volunteers a night show up every night for 40 nights in a row for us. I’ve never seen anything like that anywhere else in the country.
Sherri McKenzie: At the same time, we are always at the end of the list of states that give back. How do we report better so we’re not perceived as not giving back?
Kathleen Miller: A lot of that has to do with our transiency. I’ve read studies that when you move to Nevada, it takes seven years to get connected and involved. I know it kind of bottomed out with the recession but Las Vegas has always been a transient community. I’ve been here 15 years now; many of you have been here for much longer than that. It still takes a while for people, once they move here and get a job and get involved with their church, to start getting connected. I know people who continue to give to organizations back home for many years.
Quinn: I don’t think we offer opportunity for investment. We have one CDFI (community development financial institution) active in Southern Nevada. We’ll do our new-market community development financing institution every year through the federal government. There’s a hundred million dollars just to go to CDFIs. We have one here in Southern Nevada and then we’ve got a couple of rural. We don’t have any leveraged funds. There’s no way for us to do the type of capital investment or Social Security investment that California does. I don’t know whether that’s due to the age of the community or sophistication of the community. We miss so many opportunities just because we’ve got no place for these folks to invest. It goes back to the collaboration. Unless we realize that, to bring a $200 million philanthropy fund in here, we’re going to have to put on our big-girl panties and act a different way. That’s what is most troubling for me because I see big projects not getting done.
Caleen Norrod Johnson: Another big thing is folks here in this community are not as sophisticated as in other markets about stewardship. As organizations, we’re not as good at making sure that the donor feels loved and respected and valued for more than just their money or just their name on your letterhead or just the few volunteer hours that they’re able to give you. They’re valued for their ideas and what they can bring to the table in other ways. I think, until we as a community get smarter and better at making sure we provide a stewardship to our donors on a more sophisticated level than we’ve been doing, we’re always going to be a little bit behind the curve as far as making sure we’re keeping the donors we have and we’re attracting new donors to the table.