Whether an effort to establish a community foundation in San Carlos could get in the way of other fundraising efforts was among the concerns local nonprofit leaders and city officials voiced Monday as the effort to create an entity aimed at supporting local nonprofits and initiatives gathers momentum.
Committing $2 million of a $6 million settlement the city reached with PG&E in 2017 toward a community foundation benefiting San Carlos organizations and projects had been pegged as a priority by councilmembers for the nearly two years following the settlement announcement. In the months following the settlement stemming from PG&E’s mishandling of communication regarding the safety of a San Carlos natural gas line in 2012, then-vice mayor Cameron Johnson suggested officials consider supporting volunteer-driven, community organizations in the city in keeping with former mayor Tom Davids’ efforts to recognize those giving back to the community.
Officials also supported dedicating funds toward upgrading the Holly Street and Highway 101 interchange and affordable housing projects, but the suggestion from Johnson had been a mainstay in City Council discussions about the funds.
Johnson, whose last term on the council ended in January, was joined by Davids in presenting an update Monday on an effort taken on by a 15-person steering committee to scope the vision, mission and impact of the entity since November. Having become chair of the committee after his term ended, Johnson explained the committee has discussed offering two grant cycles per year to support efforts to improve the quality of life in the city and conducting capital campaigns to assist with building projects and other priorities identified by the City Council.
Johnson said the entity would work to generate investment income to grow the endowment, and noted the foundation would explore fundraising with San Carlos residents who have not historically donated to their communities with the goal of growing the overall pool of funds available to nonprofits. He noted the committee is planning to request $200,000 in startup funds to begin a grant cycle and cover the costs of marketing and outreach efforts as the effort gets off the ground and said that, once formed, the nonprofit would hold public meetings and report to the City Council annually.
“We think there’s a significant untapped opportunity,” he said, according to a video of the meeting. “We understand that there’s lots of organizations that are doing fundraising and we want to be respectful to that. We want to make sure that we are focusing first and foremost on the untapped opportunities out there.”
But for some nonprofit leaders such as Alana Corso, president of the San Carlos Education Foundation, the committee’s plans to begin a grant-making cycle so soon felt premature. Corso was joined by other residents with nonprofit experience in advocating for the group to spend more time working with local nonprofits to better understand the community’s needs and discuss potential fundraising strategies so they don’t ask for funds from the same donors. Corso expressed gratitude city officials previously opted to dedicate a portion of the settlement funds toward the community, and expressed a hope that more time would be taken to leverage the input of others who have given back to their community.
“It is in the same spirit of collaboration that I ask the council and the steering committee invite all of the stakeholders in the community and nonprofit leaders to help build out the community foundation together,” she said.
Johnson acknowledged the steering committee has more work to do in reaching out to nonprofits to receive input from them, and said with two children in the San Carlos Elementary School District, he is very supportive of the San Carlos Education Foundation and wouldn’t want the community foundation’s efforts to result in any fewer funds donated to the nonprofit. Acknowledging the challenging funding environment for school districts, Johnson said the group plans to be sensitive to the San Carlos Education Foundation’s concerns and would be open to discussing the nonprofit’s suggestions as to how the groups can coordinate and target different donors.
“Our goal is to grow the overall amount of resources that are available for the community,” he said.
In response to Corso’s concern about the confusion that could be caused if the foundation were called the San Carlos Community Foundation, Johnson said the group would be open to finding a different name for the entity.
Several officials voiced support for a suggestion from Karen Molinari, executive director of Healthy Cities Tutoring, to form a working group of nonprofits and conduct a needs assessment for the city to inform the nonprofit’s strategy.
Mayor Mark Olbert was optimistic the groups could work together in the coming weeks, but wondered whether officials could release the $200,000 in startup costs the steering committee requested later this year after the group has had a chance to speak with other nonprofits. Johnson said the group could work on incorporating the organization as a 501(c)3 nonprofit, among other projects, but hoped it could begin on its first grant cycle fairly soon to build on its momentum.
Having served on the boards of local nonprofits, Councilwoman Sara McDowell said she has seen how donor and volunteer fatigue have affected nonprofits, and hoped those involved in establishing the new foundation could collaborate with other organizations in the city before the funds are released.
“For me, it’s really important to not lose sight that we are stewards of these community funds,” she said. “These funds are meant to benefit the whole community.”
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