North Bay nonprofits feel squeezed out by fire-relief donations

PDI Surgery Center in Windsor treats mostly Medi-Cal and special-needs children ages 1-21 with all stages of tooth decay. (PDI Surgery Center)

CYNTHIA SWEENEY,

While massive amounts of money have poured into the North Bay for fire relief, local nonprofits have had to cancel or reschedule major fundraisers and are worried that donors might be burnt out.

Donations at Redwood Credit Union’s North Bay Fire Relief Fund has reached more nearly $23 million, and as of Nov. 30 had distributed more than $14 million towards those who lost their homes in the fires.

“I’ve never seen this level of community support. There is a real sense of commitment coming in locally and from outside the area. There have been 30,000 donors, and that’s just what we know about. That’s extraordinary,” said Robin McKenzie, RCU’s senior vice president of marketing and communications.

RCU is covering the administrative costs for the Relief Fund, which are “considerable” McKenzie said, and is also continuing its regular on-going commitments to various nonprofits.

But not everyone is.

PDI Surgery Center in Sonoma County provides treatment for the worst-case scenarios of severe tooth decay in low-income children.

“People that I know in the community say they usually give this time of year (to nonprofits) but already gave to the fire fund,” said Alicia Alexander, fund development and communications coordinator. “We don’t know how hard it’s going to be. We rely on donations this time of year. The need is still there. Unfortunately the devastation is all over, but there are still kids in pain and needing surgery.”

PDI canceled its major fundraising event that was to take place Oct. 12, and has rescheduled the Make Kids Smile awards event for February.

“We’re optimistic but unsure about how much funds will be raised at the event,” Alexander said.

According to Hazel Whiteoak, funding development and communications manager at PDI, the event usually raises about $150,000, but doesn’t think that will happen next time.

“It’s kind of worrying. One of our board member told me not to expect that for the next three years,” she said.

Social Advocates for Youth (SAY), a nonprofit that provides housing and counseling for disadvantaged youth, decided to cancel its annual fundraiser, One Cold Night, which was to take place in November. It’s an event where about 50 community leaders spend the cold night on the sidewalk to raise money. Each raises $2,500. But nine of the leaders lost their home in the fire, and the event will be moved to a later date, said Shelby Harris, communications and marketing manager.

SAY will send out its annual letter requesting donations, and reassess where its deficits are as a whole early next year, Harris said.

Linda Jacobs is the CEO of the Center for Volunteer & Nonprofit Leadership Marin–Napa. She has talked with quite a few nonprofits, she said, and the fires have put a lot of stress on staff and volunteers who have shifted their efforts to fire related efforts.

“They can’t concentrate on end-of-the year appeals. They are behind or have lost revenues,” Jacobs said.

There is also a fear that donors are burnt out on giving, she said.

Terence Mulligan, president of the Napa Valley Community Foundation said nonprofits have a right to be concerned, but in the situation is more nuanced.

The Napa Valley Community Disaster Relief Fund, which is housed at and managed by the foundation, has raised $9 million since Oct. 10. Of the 20,000 who have donated to the fund, 90 percent came from outside the county, as far away as Florida and Tokyo.

The majority of local nonprofit funding comes from local sources.

“A big disaster captures donors’ attention. Some nonprofits will suffer in the short term. But the guy in Florida isn’t going to fund local nonprofits,” Mulligan said.

At the North Bay Fire Relief Fund, 66 percent of donations are from out of the four impacted counties of Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino, and donations have been received from 21 foreign countries on four continents, including the United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, Australia, Germany and France.

“We anticipate this level of good will and giving may extend not only to fire survivors, but also to other community needs as well…. We anticipate we’ll see increased giving this year, because we’re seeing such a strong and unifying sense of community — which will benefit everyone in need, even those who did not suffer a loss in the fires,” McKenzie said.

To that end, Redwood Credit Union has created a new grant to support nonprofits that are helping with fire relief.

Nonprofits assisting North Bay fire victims can now apply for grants of up to $300,000 through the North Bay Fire Relief Fund.

Application deadline is Dec. 11 at 5 p.m. Grants can be applied for at www.rcucommunityfund.org/nbfrf-grant-app.

A grants committee will accept applications for funding from nonprofit organizations, review applications and make recommendations for funding to the fund advisory committee.

“Redwood Credit Union plans to work alongside many other funding partners in our wonderful community to be a part of solving issues that arise due to the fires — because we’re in this together,” McKenzie said.

Cynthia Sweeney covers health care, hospitality, residential real estate, education, employment and business insurance. Reach her at Cynthia.Sweeney@busjrnl.com or call 707-521-4259.