Up the creek

Chico Creek Nature Center turns to Internet during financial crisis

Caitlin Reilly, executive director of the Chico Creek Nature Center, hopes the center can raise money to meet operating costs and employ new programs.

Caitlin Reilly, executive director of the Chico Creek Nature Center, hopes the center can raise money to meet operating costs and employ new programs.

Photo By Ken smith

In the face of financial difficulties—including a $7,500 decrease in funding from the city of Chico last year—the Chico Creek Nature Center is turning to the Internet to raise funds.

The CCNC launched a 30-day crowdfunding campaign on website FundRazr.com (go to www.fundrazr.com/campaigns/aa5W7 to access) Sept. 17 with the goal of raising $3,000 to help cover costs including educational programs for schoolchildren, utilities, insurance, staff pay, and special care and feeding of the center’s animal residents.

“Our situation is pretty dire,” explained Caitlin Reilly, the CCNC’s executive director. She said the center operated on a shoestring budget of $185,000 last year, and is hoping to at least meet that amount to maintain the current level of services. She also said that if the center could raise a bit more money—about $200,000 total—it could continue with planned program expansions that could help the CCNC become more financially secure.

Reilly said the CCNC is run by a nonprofit organization and is not part of the city of Chico but, like other such organizations, relies on grant money from the city. This funding, which in years past amounted to about $65,000 annually, comes from monies the city gives to match the community-development block grant. The buildings and 37-acre section of Bidwell Park the CCNC occupies are owned by the city and leased to the center at no cost.

“The city’s contribution has been decreasing the last several years,” Reilly said, explaining the nature center received about $42,500 from Chico last year, compared to $35,000 this year. “For an organization of our size, [a] $7,500 [difference] is a significant amount of money.”

In addition to city funding, the CCNC amasses operating money from front-desk donations, memberships, summer camps and fundraisers. Its largest corporate donor is Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., which has given $20,000 for the past two years.

The Internet campaign ties into the CCNC’s largest annual fundraiser, the Hunter’s Moon Dinner & Silent Auction, scheduled this year for Oct. 17. Reilly said that, between the dinner and the crowdfunding, the center hopes to gross at least $9,000.

She explained one of the dinner’s major underwriters last year was Rabobank, which gave $3,000. This year’s contribution from that organization was $500, and the crowdfunding—started by the CCNC after it was suggested by a friend of Reilly’s—is an attempt to make up the difference.

As of Wednesday morning (Sept. 24), CCNC had met about 20 percent of its crowdfunding goal, with $610 in donations.

The CCNC’s financial situation is bad now, and could get much worse in the near future. Next month, the organization goes into renegotiations with the city regarding a $185,000 building loan it received to open a new interpretive center in March 2010. The building came at a cost of more than $900,000 total, and repayment of the loan was deferred until the end of this year.

“The building was added back when the city was flush and apparently thought they could keep up with $60,000-a-year contributions,” said Reilly, who has been the CCNC’s director for less than a year.

Reilly said she’s hoping for a deferral on the loan, but with a solid plan for the CCNC to become more economically viable and start repaying in years to come. Parts of this plan include starting new programs aimed at high-school-age students, and possibly getting an alcohol permit to attract more weddings and other private events.

She is optimistic the loan dealings will go well for the CNCC. “As a nonprofit, we can take the city’s $35,000 or so and turn it into almost $200,000. They couldn’t staff it themselves, and it’s not in their best interest to leave these buildings empty and our organization financially insolvent.”

The CCNC has been open since 1991. In addition to being a nature center, it is also Bidwell Park’s official information center. Reilly said about 6,000 field-tripping schoolchildren, and another 50,000 visitors from Chico and abroad, visit the center annually.