February 25, 2017, The Napa Valley Register Editorial Board
If there was a bright side to the 2014 earthquake, it was the strong showing of generosity and resilience that Napa County made in the face of a widespread disaster.
Among the many standouts in that effort was a previously low-profile organization known as the Napa Valley Community Foundation. For two decades, the Community Foundation had worked quietly, administering its small portfolio of donations, offering grants to non-profits in the county for a variety of programs.
In the days after the earthquake, however, it seemed that the Community Foundation was everywhere.
The Napa Valley Vintners picked the foundation – based on its past record and its willingness to undertake an unprecedented task—to administer its amazingly generous gift of $10 million to fund relief efforts, and other smaller donations followed. In the weeks after the quake, the foundation handed out about $2 million in immediate relief, money intended to help displaced families find new housing, or to replace broken household essentials, or even replace important food and medicine lost in the quake.
Then, long after many other relief organizations had moved on, the Community Foundation took on the unglamorous but important long-term work of rebuilding, helping locals get access to state and federal disaster aid, and funding a grant program for the many people who fell through the cracks of insurance and government aid programs.
In the end, the foundation doled out more than $8 million for quake-related relief and rebuilding, programs that lasted two years after the disaster.
The performance of the foundation in the aftermath of the earthquake has raised its profile in the non-profit world and given it a well-deserved seat at the table with government and other philanthropic organizations.
It has positioned the foundation to expand its work and get the recognition it deserves.
Foundation Executive Director Terence Mulligan met with the Editorial Board this week to talk about the foundation’s future. He painted an exciting picture.
In most years (leaving aside the one-time $10 million from the Vintners) the foundation raises about $4 million. Unlike most charities, it doesn’t give out much directly to the public, but rather channels donations through existing non-profits in the community. It gives out about $3 million per year in grants to non-profits working in areas such as affordable housing, assistance for immigrants seeking citizenship, health promotion, education, scholarships, environmental protection and others.
Since the quake, the foundation has also been giving grants to non-profits involved in disaster relief, helping them develop and maintain their plans so Napa County is even better prepared for the next quake, fire, flood or other emergency. It still holds in reserve about $2 million left over from the Vintners’ earthquake grant. That money can be used as a base for relief efforts in the next major disaster.
Mulligan said the foundation has been invited to participate in county-wide disaster planning, and is also a player in efforts to combat chronic homelessness, working on a multi-agency plan to get people off the streets and into supportive housing where they can get the medical and mental care they need to live on their own.
But amid all this success, Mulligan said, it has become evident there is room for improvement. The foundation’s donor base tends to be small, and funding relies too heavily on a few large grants from a few people.
He and his board are hoping to build a base of smaller donors, even down into a few hundreds of dollars. They are looking for ways to engage younger donors on a small scale, donors who can become more active supporters of the organization as their wealth and professional standing grows.
He is hoping the organization might grow enough to see the annual income reach $7 million or more within five years. Today the organization keeps between $20 and $25 million in the bank (leaving aside the remaining Vintners’ money) in various investments and endowments. He is hoping to see that double in the coming years.
It has also become clear that, even after the earthquake, the organization is not well-enough known in the community. Because the foundation tends to work indirectly, giving grants to front-line non-profits, the public tends not even to be aware when it is benefiting from the foundation’s work. Mulligan said the organization is working on ways to better tell its own story, explaining how its extensive contacts and high-level view of the county’s non-profit community make it a strategic way to invest, rather than a mere middleman.
We applaud the Community Foundation for its work and we are pleased to hear about Mulligan’s plan for its continued growth.
And we urge anyone interested in thoughtful and informed charitable investment in Napa County – whether in large or small scale – to have a chat with the Napa Valley Community Foundation.
The Napa Valley Register Editorial Board consists of Publisher Brenda Speth, Editor Sean Scully, and public members Cindy Webber, Ed Shenk, Mary Jean Mclaughlin and Chris Hammaker.