Gold in them there plates

Nevada’s specialty license plate program has netted non-profits millions

Josh Kamesch is proud of his Future Farmers of America roots and is happy to display a specialty plate that recognizes the group, as well as supports it.

Josh Kamesch is proud of his Future Farmers of America roots and is happy to display a specialty plate that recognizes the group, as well as supports it.

Photo By tracie douglas

There are specialty license plates and vanity plates everywhere, and while registered drivers paid fees to have those plates, the state can’t be making that much money, right? How about more than $8.5 million dollars every year. Of course, the majority of money raised for specific causes, like wild horses and organ donation, actually goes to the organization that requested the plate. The rest of the money, as well as all of the money from the vanity plates, goes into a fund that builds highways throughout Nevada. Approximately $4.4 million is raised annually by specialty plates, with vanity plates bringing in about $4.2 million.

The state currently has a list of 30 organizations that receive funds from specialty plates. Each organization filled out an application that went before the Commission on Special License Plates for approval, and then was approved by the Nevada Legislature. The plate remains active as long as it gets enough plates to support the costs associated with the plates.

Kevin Malone, DMV public information officer, said that some portion of all the vanity plates and specialty plates does go back to the Nevada State Prison, where all of the license plates are made. Malone said that the amount that goes to the prison is small but necessary to fund the program.

Who has specialty plates?

A wild horse advocate, Terri Farley of Verdi, has the Horse Power plates, mostly to show her solidarity with the efforts to humanely treat wild horses.

“I’m not sure how much of the fee I pay goes to Horse Power, but I do know that they use it to provide education and outreach, especially to homeowners who have wild horses visiting their property,” Farley said. Farley sees the stallion on the plates as an iconic symbol of Nevada and is happy to have the opportunity to help them.

Terri Thomas of Reno is happy to have the ability to show some of her personality through the use of vanity plates. But she does not believe that the DMV uses those funds specifically to build highways in Nevada. “I just don’t believe they sequester the funds from vanity plates for highway funding, because it would be an accounting nightmare,” Thomas said.

Before she retired, Thomas worked in local government and had dealings with registration taxes from all motor vehicle registrations.

“It’s fine if all the money goes into the general fund for DMV, but I think they’re blowing smoke by saying the license plate fees go specifically to build highways in Nevada,” said Thomas.

Josh Kamesch is proud to display his Future Farmers of America plates because he was involved with the group when he was growing up.

“I think I pay an extra $40, with $20 going to FFA,” Kamesch said. “I know the DMV has to get their cut, but I wish they would give more of this fee to the group.”

According to the Nevada School of Medicine, which handles the organ donation program for the state, approximately $120,000 comes into their coffers annually from the Organ Donation specialty plate.

A lot on their plates

Cassandra Smith is the administrator for the organ donation program. She said that the money the program receives helps pay for the donor registry the program has through Statline, a national company that can track the need for donations, as well as possible donors, throughout the country. They also use their specialty plate funding for educational brochures that are placed in all DMV offices throughout the state, and every other year, they advertise on Reno and Las Vegas TV and radio stations.

The State Organization on Arts and Disability (VSA Nevada) and the Nevada Arts Council split the cash received from the Kids in Arts specialty plate, even though all funds must go to support arts for children. VSA uses their $30,000 to support approximately 3,000 workshops in special education classes in Washoe County.

“It’s a huge thing for us, and if we didn’t receive that money, it would severely limit the number of workshops we could do,” said Mary Ellen Horan, executive director for VSA Nevada.

According to Jane Tors, media relations for the University of Nevada, Reno, the university receives around $164,000, which is divided 50/50 between academic and athletic scholarship programs.

Forthcoming plates include one for the city of Reno, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, Nevada Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board, and the March of Dimes.

When an organization applies for a specialty plate, they must spell out how funds will be used. Some non-profits have been audited because they didn’t use money the way they said they would. Therefore, if someone wants to support educational outreach, special programs or other specific elements of a non-profit, they can rest assured their dollars are being used appropriately when they pay for specialty plates.

There is only one specialty plate that is split between two counties, Washoe and Clark, and that is the Animal Appreciation plate that supports spay and neuter programs. Both counties wrote the application together, so they share the fees accordingly. In some cases, people in Reno may want the Naturalized Citizen plates, but they may not realize the funds raised are spent for programs in Las Vegas. The same holds true for people living in White Pine County who want Lake Tahoe plates; obviously those funds support efforts at the Lake.

Non-profit administrators who think specialty plates may be a good way to raise money, should do a little research first. They might end up discontinued like Ducks Unlimited, Nevada Libraries or Nevada Tourism. For more information about what specialty plates are available, how much they cost and how much money goes to the specified agency, go to the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles website at and click on license plates.