Editor’s note: The St. Helena Star is a sister publication to The Weekly Calistogan.
There’s no way to prepare fully for a disaster as devastating as the October wildfires, but at least Napa County is lucky enough to have a mature, efficient fundraising and distribution network to handle the relief efforts.
We’re talking about the Napa Valley Community Foundation and the array of nonprofits it supports, ensuring that charitable contributions are managed and distributed wisely.
By the first Friday after the fires started, the foundation had already cut $565,000 in checks to nonprofits that were helping victims under the most difficult circumstances — some of those entities not even having electricity in their offices.
By last week the foundation had doled out $4 million in fire relief, courtesy of 10,500 donors. The foundation distributes those funds to the victims through nonprofits that interact directly with them.
This filtered approach has a few advantages. First, it puts money into the hands of experienced professionals with the skills to determine who needs it the most: the victim whose house burned down but is getting a sizable insurance settlement and temporary aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or the dishwasher who didn’t get paid for the week his restaurant was closed and doesn’t know how he’s going to pay his rent or feed his kids?
These are difficult questions, and Community Foundation President Terrence Mulligan told us he’s happy to leave those matters to the nonprofits best equipped to answer them.
Second, it minimizes the disruption to nonprofits that, on top of having to provide their everyday services, are being inundated with pleas for fire-related help.
After the 2014 Napa earthquake, using money provided by the Napa Valley Vintners, the foundation worked with nonprofits to set up the Napa Valley Community Organizations Active in Disaster, a set of continuity, contingency and communication plans intended to keep each nonprofit functioning and talking to one another during a major disaster.
We can’t overstate how lucky the Napa Valley is to have even the most horrific scenarios war-gamed out, ensuring that our public-private-nonprofit network of support services doesn’t break down when it’s needed most.
Third, the filtering of donations provides a centralized clearinghouse to help donors focus their efforts. Instead of having to choose among 15 or 20 worthy nonprofits, donors can just write a check to the foundation and know it will be divvied up fairly and efficiently among the foundation’s pre-vetted partners.
This kind of distribution network isn’t universally beloved. Mulligan said he had to turn down one well-intentioned vintner who was insisting that 100 percent of his donation go directly to fire victims. The foundation would not make that guarantee, because in many cases it allows some of its donations to cover the nonprofits’ expenses incurred in serving the victims. The donor gave to another organization instead.
However, this surgically targeted process is a lot more efficient than setting up a booth and handing out money to anyone who was affected by the fires, without consideration of their need or financial alternatives.
The October firestorm was one of the worst disasters to hit the Napa Valley in modern times, but it sadly won’t be the last. So let’s count ourselves fortunate to have such a sophisticated charitable structure in place to help people get back on their feet as quickly as possible.
If you haven’t donated to the Napa Valley Community Foundation yet, or if you want to give more, visit napavalleycf.org.
(Disclosure: Two members of our board deal directly with the Napa Valley Community Foundation. Norma Ferriz works for the Up Valley Family Centers, which receives funds from the foundation. Peter McCrea serves on the boards of the Napa Valley Vintners, which supports the foundation, and Ole Health, which receives funds from the foundation.)