Palo Alto Weekly

News - March 27, 2009

Helping the helpers

City councilmen, technologists try to connect nonprofits with funders

by Sue Dremann

Two Palo Alto city councilmen are working to give local cash-strapped nonprofits a boost, using a new website on which charities can post their needs and reach out to funding organizations.

Councilman Yiaway Yeh announced the fledgling website at last week's Palo Alto Human Relations Commission meeting. It is a joint effort with Councilman Sid Espinosa, various nonprofit groups and local technologists.

Called the Palo Alto Council of Nonprofits, the idea was decided on by the side of a pool with two heads of nonprofit groups while discussing announcements for the annual Palo Alto Community Foundation awards, he said.

"We came up with the idea after we heard dire stories with nonprofits," he said.

The site would contain areas for recruiting volunteers and governing directors; an online forum to link nonprofits in the same service areas; a way for organizations to create joint applications for funding; and digital-media tools, so organizations can visually and aurally tell their stories. Planning for the site is in the beginning stages and will take several months to work out the details, he said.

The site also aims to marry donors with organizations and for programs to ask for specific funding.

The fundraising outlook is grim for many local groups, according to a report released this month by the Silicon Valley Council of Nonprofits. Fifty-one percent of agencies anticipate layoffs or the reduction of staffing in the near future. Only 7 percent of nonprofit groups report they are financially strong, according to the report.

The City of Palo Alto expects to allocate $1.1 million to local nonprofit organizations in the coming year — about $350,000 short of local agencies' needs, according to Kathy Espinosa-Howard, director of human resources for the city.

At the Human Relations Commission meeting, several nonprofit organizations learned they probably would not receive funding, while other programs will likely receive a 5-percent cut over previous years' funding.

"It's awful — it's totally awful," Espinosa-Howard said of the current state of funding versus needs. She is still trying to locate funds for a food program run by InnVision, which supplies one meal a day to people so they don't go hungry, she said.

"We really are talking about basic, basic needs here in the community. There's no luxury," she said.

Palo Alto is a nexus of nonprofit groups compared to surrounding cities, she said. The website will cover Palo Alto nonprofits and may include some parts of northern Santa Clara County.

"When they speak with one voice I do think they are taken more seriously," she said.

With needs increasing and funds decreasing, it's important for nonprofit groups to organize in order to capitalize on funds, she said.

The website idea stems from Kiva.org, which uses an online venture-philanthropy model Yeh said.

Kiva.org allows people to lend money to a specific entrepreneur in a developing country as a way to lift them out of poverty. A page shows a photo, has a short text about the project, the amount of funding needed and an ongoing tally of how much money has been raised. The page also links to a profile page of individual donors for the project and information about why they donate and other groups to which they lend money.

Yeh, who was active in Silicon Valley for Obama, said many people involved in the campaign are now looking around at what they can do locally.

"There's a lot of desire," he said.

Yeh said he wanted to start the website because the situation "will probably get worse in the coming years."

Daryl Savage, Human Relations Commission chairperson, told Yeh at the meeting: "You have just provided a glimmer of hope."

Daryl Savage is a columnist for the Weekly.

Staff Writer Sue Dremann can be e-mailed at sdremann@paweekly.com.

Comments

Posted by Elizabeth Lucchesi, a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 2, 2009 at 1:30 pm

The Palo Alto Community Fund (PACF) is one stop shopping for high impact, grass roots gifts with all the due diligence done for you by knowledgeable people in your community. With one check, one gift, you can support a variety of outstanding efforts that are meeting many kinds of community needs. As an endowed fund, PACF will continue in perpetuity to be a community resource -- in good times and in bad times. Since its founding in 1979 PACF has awarded $1,656,000 in 357 grants to support local nonprofits that help enrich Palo Alto and its neighboring communities such as East Palo Alto, East Menlo Park and Mountain View by growing and managing its philanthropic endowment (which exceeded $4 million for the first time in 2008). Each year the proceeds of that endowment are awarded through an extensive grantmaking proeess. From education and youth services to arts and cultural endeavors and seniors and the environment, the Fund supports a broad range of diverse causes that improve the quality of life for our local residents. To lean more about the Palo Alto Community Fund or to participate with a gift, please see: www.paloaltocommfund.org or contact Executive Director, Cammie Vail: cammievail@paloaltocommfund.org., 650-450-5581. Elizabeth Lucchesi, PACF Board Member


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