Economy: Help the nonprofits help the community |

Economy: Help the nonprofits help the community

Jen Schmidt/Sierra SunA newcomer to Project MANA's food distributions takes his first box of food at Wednesday's distribution in Kings Beach.

Like everyone else, Truckee-Tahoe area nonprofits are feeling the squeeze of the economic recession.

Donations are shrinking, state grants are being frozen and the demand for many services provided by nonprofits are only increasing.

But it isn’t just affecting the nonprofit businesses and those who depend on them. Truckee and North Lake Tahoe nonprofits are actually an important part of the economy, providing jobs and revenue.

So the Truckee Tahoe Community Foundation is taking actions to keep the nonprofit sector afloat, changing the way they fund different organizations and planning aggressive fundraising activities.

And with a slow winter, just how successful nonprofits are could be even more important than ever before.

“We haven’t felt the full impact of the economic meltdown in the nonprofit community yet,” said Phebe Bell, program officer for the foundation. “But unfortunately the worst is yet to come.”

She said while the Truckee-Tahoe area has always been philanthropic, donations are shrinking.

“Big donations are dropping down to medium-sized and smaller donations are just dropping out,” Bell said.

The community foundation surveyed 43 area nonprofits, and found that 55 percent reported donations decreasing, while 31 percent said they stayed the same and 13 percent saw an increase.

Overall the community foundation found charitable donations have dropped as much as 65 percent.

Steve Frisch, president of the Sierra Business Council, said nonprofits also felt the downturn in economy when California state grants were frozen ” a repercussion of the state’s financial impasse.

“There is a 160-page long list of projects frozen by the state,” Frisch said. “I calculated $440 million frozen in the Sierra at a time we need it most.”

And the surveyed nonprofits reported the same trend, with 56 percent saying they are seeing a decline in government dollars.

Overall, 48 percent of the nonprofits that responded said they were still in good shape, compared to 46 percent characterized as precarious or anxious, and 5 percent “dire.”

The most obvious result of failing funding for nonprofits is in the services they provide to the people who need it most.

Fortunately, most health and human service nonprofits have been able to keep up ” so far.

George LeBard, executive director for Project MANA, said demand grew for food distribution throughout the region; 109 families showing up for food in Kings Beach two weeks ago compared to normal numbers around 60, 76 families in Incline Village compared to 30, and 76 in Truckee compared to 60.

“It’s all related to the economy ” but it’s also very much related to the lack of snow ” when there is snow people are shoveling, putting on chains, plowing, and working at ski resorts,” LeBard said.

Donations dropped off at the first of the year, so Project MANA is reformulating their food bags to contain more protein and carbohydrates ” hopefully sustaining families longer without dipping into emergency supplies, LeBard said.

For Sierra Family Services, the recession is as much mental as it is fiscal, said Barbara Hopkins.

“We’re seeing an increase in the number of people who need to come in for counseling, they’re calling it a crisis,” Hopkins said.

And as more people come in for support, time to give counseling is becoming more restricted, she said.

“A person used be able to come in and take their time, now they are only given a certain amount of time for therapy,” Hopkins said. “My big push is taking care of the workers ” we are responsible for looking at the mental health of the community.”

It isn’t just those who need the services of that will be affected by diminished nonprofits, however ” it’s the whole region’s economy.

“Nevada County has almost half of all the nonprofits in the Sierra, it’s a significant part of the economic sector for North Lake Tahoe and Truckee,” said Steve Frisch. “This is why in an economic downturn we need to focus in on our local community when services are needed most.”

That includes the number of jobs nonprofits supply and the revenue they bring to the region, he said.

So while health and human services seem like the most obvious need during a depression in the nonprofit world, keeping arts and environmental nonprofits alive could be just as important.

California Propositions 50, 84, and others used for environmental projects are a local economic stimulus, Frisch said.

“We’ve got a triple whammy ” we are in the middle of one of the worst droughts, at the bottom of one of the worst economies, and all the state funding is frozen, effectively slowing down our economy more at the worst possible time,” Frisch said.

For example, Kaitlin Backlund, executive director of the Mountain Area Preservation Foundation, said $93,500 grant meant for a pocket park in Truckee that was frozen by the state has broader economic implications.

“Looking at the bigger picture the pocket park would have created an estimated 15 job opportunities with the project, all on hold ” that’s significant,” Backlund said.

And working to maintain a healthy environment is crucial to maintain tourism in Truckee and Tahoe, she said.

Likewise, arts and entertainment nonprofits like the Lake Tahoe Music Festival and a planned railroad museum by the Truckee Donner Railroad Society can provide jobs, encourage spending and draw visitors to the area.

While state and federal grants are disappearing and donations are becoming more difficult in this economic downturn, the Truckee Tahoe Community Foundation is determined to keep the doors open for local nonprofits.

To help Truckee-Tahoe area nonprofits stay afloat, the foundation is shifting from only funding nonprofit projects to offering up money for basic needs ” like paying the bills.

Their aim is to make sure the valuable services stay available when they’re needed most, and to keep a measurable segment of the local economy alive.

So by opening up the foundation’s grants to more general and basic purposes, Phebe Bell said they hope to keep local nonprofits able to help out.

“Generally speaking we’ve focused on projects; you don’t want people relying on you for keeping the doors open,” Bell said. “But now we need to start doing that, now is not the time to start a big new project.”

Chief Executive Officer Lisa Dobey said the foundation will be able to give out close to $1 million ” not diminished from past years ” because of their endowment and the generosity of the community.

“Our strategy is to make sure when nonprofits need us most we have the money,” Dobe said.

Bell said the community foundation may also set aside an emergency fund to help out nonprofits in crisis, and plans to create non-funding resources to help nonprofits figure their way through the economic downturn.

The Truckee Tahoe Community Foundation will also be turning to the community for help, with Call to Action Truckee Tahoe on March 15 ” a donation drive for nonprofits.

“We want to do one giant phone bank-athon with 200 people making 50 calls each,” Phoebe Bell said. “Our goal is $100,000.”

Theresa May Duggan, who is spearheading the donation drive, said she hopes the community does its part.

“This is going ot be huge,” Duggan said. “It’s very duable.”

She said volunteers will call 10,000 community members, hoping to average $100 each, to meet the $100,000 goal.

To volunteer for a phone bank call Duggan at 546-7903 or write to

To make a donation before March 15, send a check to the Truckee Tahoe Community Foundation at 11071 Donner Pass Road, Truckee, or go to

Keep an eye on the Sierra Sun and for regular updates between now and the March 15 call to action, including stories about local nonprofits, letters to the editor, and live updates during the donation drive.

Also tell us if you intend to support nonprofits on our online web poll: Vote at

Are you planning to give to local nonprofits this year?

– Yes, I was planning on it all along

– Yes, but only after learning some local services might be lost

– No, I cannot afford to

– No, we do not need all these nonprofits

Support Local Journalism


Support Local Journalism

Readers around Lake Tahoe, Truckee, and beyond make the Sierra Sun's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.

Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User