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Nonprofit groups feel the burn

Posted: January 17, 2009 9:00 p.m.
Updated: January 18, 2009 4:59 a.m.
In this rough economy, many local nonprofit organizations face a challenge - find creative ways to compensate for decreased funds or deal with limited resources.

Angela Bennett is the chair of the local Nonprofit Leaders Council, which represents up to 15 nonprofit organizations in the Santa Clarita Valley.

In council meetings over past months, leaders discussed methods for overcoming economic problems.

"This year we're looking at the dynamics of our community ... and have discussed how we as nonprofits can make it easier for the community to get involved," Bennett said. "We've looked at changes in the 990 tax return for nonprofits and we're going to look at marketing and strategic development plans."

Bennett said she's personally suggested ideas such as renegotiating leases with property landlords for lower rates or better terms.

As chief executive of the SCV Pregnancy Center on Valencia Boulevard, Bennett said the center is coping with a small drop in regular contributions from private donors and a significant drop of spontaneous donations.

Those cutbacks amount to about a 20 percent decrease in the center's budget.

"We want to be very strategic," Bennett said. "We're rethinking what we're doing and how to be the best stewards of gifts given to us."

The center is looking to switch from mail-based communication to e-mail as one way of conserving funds, she said.

The Boys & Girls Club of the Santa Clarita Valley, which aims to inspire and enable youth through educational and extracurricular programs, has recently seen a demand for services that is difficult to keep up with.

"For example, a parent normally pays a fee for transportation for us to pick up their kids from school," said Bryan Lake, director of administration for the club. "Now, they're impacted through a job loss or cutback salary and so they're coming to us, asking if we can help eliminate those fees."

Lake said the club's ability to provide that level of scholarship assistance is dwindling. More than 40 percent of the club's revenue comes from special events and auctions, but those funds are down, Lake said.

"We have to be creative," he said. One way of doing so is seeking more grants.

The club revamped an educational enhancement program that was cut by a national organization.

"We took the Tomorrow's Leaders program they used to have, we adapted it and improved upon it and created a new program that we call Create Tomorrow's Leaders and were able to get additional funding for three years," Lake said. "We're not going to paint kids' hair blue to chase money. Instead of chasing dollars, we'll find those things we closely do and if we need to tweak a bit, we'll do that."

The club also must operate under reduced staff hours and low staff numbers, as does the Domestic Violence Center of Santa Clarita Valley.

"Staff's pretty overloaded," Executive Director Nicole Shellcroft said. "We just have to make do to get it done. Some days are okay because we have not as much traffic in the office. But when it does get busy it gets stressful."

The center suffered a 20 percent cut in state funding for the new fiscal year, Shellcroft said. The center made no recent staff cuts, but more staff is needed. Two staff operate the emergency shelter for domestic violence victims. Shellcroft would like to have three more in the shelter and additional staff for other

"Volunteers we can have but most of our work with clients requires a 40-hour domestic violence certification," she said.

Despite the economic pressure these groups face, leaders seem optimistic their organizations will continue to effectively serve the community. Many have said, "we'll stop going to the movies before we stop supporting you," Bennett said.

The nonprofit food provider to needy residents ramped up its fundraising efforts and research for grants, Executive Director Belinda Crawford said. But she is thankful to community members for responding to many of those efforts.

"We are very fortunate that here in Santa Clarita we have very generous people, who see a need and are happy to help," she said.

Lake of the Boys & Girls Club said a proactive approach is necessary to move forward.

"The phrase is not original, but as we like to say, ‘hope is not a strategy,'" he said. "We hope for improvements but also realize hope is not a strategy and we also have to have concrete goals and plans in mind."


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