This interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.
Pat Kerrigan: Is the money still coming in?
Elizabeth Brown: Yes! We are close to $11 million dollars. We had talked before, that most funding comes in in the immediate weeks, but Sonoma County is bucking the trend, and we have seen donations slowing down, but still coming in. Some donors want to be sure that their donations will be going towards long-term recovery, and we are the appropriate place for that.
We talked with a lot of leaders about finding the numbers – in terms of the effects to our local economy. I would hope too that once that information is known, it will be another opportunity for you to go out and say, okay we know what areas where more money is needed.
Exactly. We are in that phase of giving where we are moving from the heart to the head. At first, there’s a motivation to give out of love, and now we’re moving into the head place where people want data. We are looking to indicators from the city and county, and FEMA. We are also doing our own research as well. We are conducting interviews and surveying hundreds of nonprofit leaders to get their direct experience on who they are serving, and where they are seeing the needs.
I think it’s truer than ever, that one of our concerns throughout the holidays was how much were local nonprofits going to suffer because of monies earmarked for fire victims. Will that be one focus of the Resilience Fund?
We haven’t made any specific commitments around our funding priorities but I am certainly a champion to making sure that nonprofits continue to have the capacity to do their work. Another thing I’ve talked with you about is a reminder that the needs that existed before the fires still persist. I’m very proud that we are continuing our 2016 and 2017 type of grantmaking as well. Just next week we will be launching a broad based community grants program in partnership with the Sonoma County Vintners, and this is a non-fire-related grantmaking program that we’ve done for the past several years.
How long has Community Foundation been in business?
We have been here for 35 years now, and over that time we have made more than $200 million in grants.
Have you talked with people who have been through something similar to this disaster?
Definitely, that’s been a core part of our data gathering. We’ve talked with people with experience in New Orleans with Katrina, 9/11 in New York, numerous hurricanes. There’s a sub-field of philanthropy called disaster philanthropy. What we hear, time and time again, is that this is a long haul: think 5 or 10 years. We have encouragement that it’s important to be patient and flexible in our grantmaking.
It’s hard to be patient isn’t it?
It is hard because there are so many needs, but we have a job of having limited dollars for what seems like unlimited needs so we have to make sure that we’re making smart investments.
It seems like, even now, three and a half months after the fire, more issues are appearing. Fortunately, we’re beyond the immediate need portion for most of us, but the long term is turning out to be a hell of a commitment isn’t it?
It sure is, and that really turns out to be what disasters are like. I don’t know if that’s more comforting or overwhelming!
I think you would agree with me that the consistency of generosity has been a wonderful surprise. For the Resilience Fund can you talk about where the money is coming from?
About 30% of our funding has come from inside of our county, with 70% from outside of the area. The fields of technology, the greater wine industry, and also individuals and foundations from around the country really stepped up. I think there’s a sense in communities around the nation that it’s not a matter of if but when our community will face a disaster, so there’s a sense of “we need to have each other’s backs.”
Elizabeth thanks so much for being here today. Good luck to the Resilience Fund, thinking mid-term and long-term for Sonoma County.