Annie B would be pleased

Community comes together behind charitable drive in her name

Alexa Valavanis knows what’s happening with local nonprofit agencies better than anyone, and she’s troubled.

“It’s a difficult time for nonprofits,” she said during a recent interview in her north Chico office. “We’ve been expecting it for a couple of years, and this year we’re seeing it. Donations are down. Nonprofits are hurting financially.”

Valavanis is the executive director of the North Valley Community Foundation, itself a nonprofit organization, but one that serves other nonprofits and charitable donors. In addition to providing educational and consulting services to donors and agencies, it collects and funnels charitable donations from the community to more than 300 nonprofit groups in Butte, Glenn, Colusa and Tehama counties.

Right now the foundation and 169 of its member nonprofits are in the midst of Annie B’s Community Drive, their annual two-month-long fundraising drive named after Annie Bidwell, the wife of Chico’s founder. There have been three such drives so far that have raised altogether nearly $3.1 million from thousands of donors.

At the end of each drive, additional money collected directly by the NVCF and placed in a “grant pool” is divided among the participants in amounts proportionate to how much they themselves brought in. That provides an additional incentive each nonprofit can cite as it encourages its supporters to donate. Valavanis calls it “a return on investment,” in the sense that a donation of $100, say, could end up being significantly larger because of the grant pool.

The grant funds—around $100,000—are generated from two anonymous donors who have pledged $250,000—$50,000 per year for five years—and money NVCF has raised through its partnership program with local businesses.

The drive’s two-month shelf life is purposeful, Valavanis said. The goal is “to minimize donor fatigue. Donors need to know that we’re not going to be at their door next week.” And donors also know their gifts are going to the agencies of their choice, not groups selected by the foundation.

As Valavanis put it, “We don’t want to tell the community it has to put more money into animals than into health care.”

Charitable nonprofits are hurting because of the recession, says North Valley Community Foundation CEO Alexa Valavanis. At the same time, the need for their services is greater. She urges everyone to participate in the Annie B’s Community Drive, even if it’s only to donate a few dollars.

Photo By Robert Speer

Connie Rogers is a big fan of the Annie B’s Drive.

As executive director of the Gold Nugget Museum in Paradise, Rogers knows how important fund-raising is—and how tight money has become.

Just this year the Paradise Town Council canceled its annual $23,000 grant (from motel-tax funds) to the museum, citing budget shortages. “We’re pushing hard,” Rogers said. “We can’t make [the lost grant] up, but we’re trying, and the Annie B’s has been very helpful.”

The museum has many volunteers who help with fund-raising events, but it’s “very labor-intensive,” Rogers said. “Annie B’s is such a breeze. They make it easy for us.”

Over at Club Stairways, a Chico-based center for people with mental-health problems, Armando Hernandez, the group’s program coordinator, said members were looking forward to the Annie B’s showcase event tonight (Sept. 16) at the Thursday Night Market downtown. It will be the capstone of their outreach efforts, which have included manning tables at several local farmers’ markets throughout the drive, in addition to holding yard sales.

It’s been “really good” working with NVCF, Hernandez said. The foundation is highly organized and keeps in almost constant contact with its member agencies.

Tom Haithcock, director of the Chico Creek Nature Center, also appreciates NVCF’s organizational skills. “They’ve been very helpful,” he said. “They do the legwork for the whole thing.”

The center’s members appreciate the NVCF’s ability to offer an incentive—to sweeten the pot, so to speak—by having their donations extended, he added.

The Chico Creek Nature Center has been a participating agency since the Annie B’s drive’s inception four years ago. Tom Haithcock, the center’s director, says the incentive the NVCF’s matching grants provide is a big help in encouraging people to give.

Photo By Kyle Delmar

When we think of social services, we often think of such governmental programs as Social Security, Medi-Cal, the state Employment Development Department and the like. And certainly they are an important part of the social network that works to create a healthy society in which those who need help can get it.

But in many ways non-governmental, nonprofit agencies and programs are just as important, perhaps even more so. For one thing, they provide a much wider range of services. And they do so far more cost-effectively than government does, which enables their dollars to go farther than tax dollars go.

But there’s another important difference: the act of giving. Paying taxes, even when we do so willingly, is not the same as giving voluntarily.

When we give generously from the heart, we not only make others’ lives better, we raise our own levels of joy and happiness. It feels good to give. As the Dalai Lama puts it, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”

In that sense, the Annie B’s Drive can be seen as an effort to organize and direct the process of giving—the flowering of compassion—in this area. It fits in perfectly with the purpose of the community foundation, which is to serve as a facilitator and resource for charitable giving, helping both agencies that need funding and donors looking for places to focus their giving.

In recent years, under Valavanis’ enthusiastic and innovative leadership, the NVCF has become a powerful force for good in the community. When she came on board, in 2005, the foundation had $1.5 million in its ongoing fund and only 30 clients. Five years later, it manages more than $8 million in its fund, has brought in a total of $14.5 million, and given out nearly $8 million in grants. It now serves more than 300 agencies and has more than 10,000 local donors.

That’s a lot of money and people involved in doing good, and it’s all because of the community foundation. Annie B would be pleased.