Fundraising can be tricky during a local disaster like a wildfire or flood. It can be even trickier during a global pandemic that spans an entire year and counting. COVID-19 and successive years of wildfires hit the Healdsburg and Geyserville communities hard. With grapes left unharvested and restaurants, hotels, wineries and shops sitting empty, people who live and work in the region struggled to afford food and housing, were juggling childcare shortages and home-based learning, and faced a health crisis unlike anything we have seen before.
These were the obstacles staring down Healdsburg Forever in 2020, but true to the drive and generosity at the heart of Sonoma County, they were able to raise more than $300,000 to help fight the impacts of COVID-19 locally.
An affiliate of Community Foundation Sonoma County (CFSC), Healdsburg Forever was founded in 2003 to address the needs of the greater Healdsburg/Geyserville region. Operating as a funding source for Healdsburg area nonprofits, they have granted over $1.7 million to organizations that serve the regional community.
Healdsburg Forever board members Carol Beattie and Barbara Lannin serve on multiple committees in the volunteer-run organization. Together, they worked on an ambitious and successful fundraising project in 2020, launching a new Community Impact Fund, and serving as co-chairs of the fundraising campaign. To help kickstart their fundraising efforts, CFSC gifted $150k to the fund in hopes that Healdsburg Forever could match those funds, which would then go directly into the hands of nonprofits who work with those most impacted by both the Covid pandemic and recent fires.
“It was decided that Community Impact Fund would be specific to the current crises caused by the combination of recent wildfires and COVID,” says Lannin. “The matching challenge grant from CFSC was a huge benefit because it created momentum and gave us a compelling story to engage prospective donors.”
Lannin adds that Healdsburg Forever didn’t do a lot of fundraising at the beginning of 2020, as they were very focused on quickly getting emergency grants distributed to nonprofits.
“Our underlying purpose is really to meet the needs of the community through our endowment, community connections and grants,” she says.
After some strategic emergency grant-making in early May, they launched a second round in September, granting $142,000 to eight organizations providing essential safety net services to the most vulnerable in Healdsburg and Geyserville, particularly Latinx and socioeconomically disadvantaged households.
Then in November 2020, they launched the Community Impact Fund. Fundraising for this new endeavor was different than previous campaigns, in which CFSC sent solicitations on their behalf and managed their communications. With the $150k matching grant, the Healdsburg Forever board had an opportunity to expand outreach to those who hadn’t financially contributed before and to hopefully widen the range of donors and community support in Northern Sonoma County—a challenge during challenging times.
“Although early work on the fund was interrupted by August fires, in September we had a contract with CFSC,” said Beattie “and that’s when the really heavy lifting of the steering committee and all board members started.”
“We’ve always been a working board,” she adds. “Now this was a working board on steroids; it was all hands on deck. It was a very collaborative effort with a lot of activity behind the green screen, so to speak.”
They started the matching challenge with appeals to people who had given to support Healdsburg Forever in the past. Board members began contacting friends and other community members who had not been involved with Healdsburg Forever and built relationships with new donors. And a previous donor joined in the fundraising endeavor and invited their contacts to support the program. This networking process brought nearly twenty new donors to Healdsburg Forever.
Tracking their push to raise $300,000 by year-end, Carol Beattie was energized to see their progress. “I went on the portal on December 18th and said, ‘we hit it!’ And then we exceeded that by year-end,” says Beattie, of reaching their matching goal within four weeks of officially launching their fundraising effort.
Historically, Healdsburg Forever hosted a competitive grant process each year. Applications were announced in August, organizations would apply, and the grants committee would process the applications, awarding grants to select organizations, and averaging between $150,000 and $180,000 in recent years. Lannin says that, for the most part, they always had more applications than they had funds for.
The grants, she says, covered several different categories; health and human services, youth development and education, and arts and environment. Since the onset of the pandemic, they have temporarily shifted away from these categories to focus on the essential needs of food security, housing assistance, healthcare, and childcare.
“We shifted away from our competitive grant cycle 2020 and 2021 for a number of reasons; for one, we saw that as a lot of work for the nonprofits, and we knew that right now their time was better focused on directly meeting critical community needs.”
Building relationships with the nonprofit community is one of Healdsburg Forever’s many strengths. And because of these relationships, the grants committee and board felt that they could remove the burden of the application process by proactively identifying the nonprofits doing work in addressing food security, housing, healthcare, and childcare, and making grants directly to them.
This year, because of their successful fundraising campaign and the matching grant from CFSC, Healdsburg Forever has given a total of $300,000 in grants to six organizations that work directly with those most impacted by the fires and the pandemic: Corazón, Alliance Medical Center, Redwood Empire Food Bank, Reach for Home, and Legal Aid of Sonoma County.
Having the backing and encouragement of CFSC to venture into new types of fundraising made a big impact for Healdsburg Forever, and both Beattie and Lannin say they are incredibly grateful for this support.
“We’re both very proud and appreciative to be an affiliate of the Community Foundation,” says Beattie.
For more information about Healdsburg Forever, please visit healdsburgforever.org
Story by Dani Burlison