The State of Local Giving

So far, so good, though nothing is certain. So be charitable.


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The staffers at the Oral Lee Brown Foundation, which provides college scholarships and other support to local children, love introducing supporters to the children the foundation serves and will suggest a supporter sponsor or mentor a single kid. “The students are here; they are live human beings,” Oral Lee Brown said. Those who do make the effort to visit in person usually end up donating 2½ times more, she said.

Marjorie Goux can relate and feels similarly about her monthly donation to Girls Inc. of Alameda County. “These are smart girls who’ve spent their whole lives covering that up to blend into their environment. They can come to Girls Inc. and be smart and bold. You can immediately see how this targeted work change the lives of the youth and their families.”

A local presence seems to go far in cementing donor-organization relationships. When Mary Ann Cates was a young mother, she saw the Alameda Meals on Wheels delivery vehicles around town. “We became curious. When the time came that we could donate to help the less fortunate in Alameda, we chose Meals on Wheels,” she said. Over the years, she and her husband, Gary, have grown their involvement from holiday donations to volunteering to stints on the board. Their children and grandchildren help out, as well. “This way we can take care of our neighbors and fellow citizens,” she said.

Graham Lustig, artistic director of the Oakland Ballet, said he has noticed a shift in how foundations and corporations give. “For example, corporations had a history of giving to the arts; now they’ve changed their focus to science.” 

Lustig is among those who hope to connect with younger donors, possibly those high-paid, tech-worker unicorns. “I’d love Oakland Ballet to be more successful with reaching into the tech community,” he said. But that can be labor intensive. “It’s a dating game, all about finding a match. You have to knock on a lot of doors before one opens.”

Explaining why Bay Nature has made an enormous investment in technology and online content, Judith Katz, development director, said, “Younger people are using their phones to get information, and they are not used to paying for their information. We have to do it, if we want to serve people in the Bay Area.”

“I think most nonprofits are missing people in their 20s to 40s,” said Rosemary Riley, director of Alameda Meals on Wheels, pointing out a lack of awareness and a general societal shift among the demographic. “The older generation was brought up where community service was a part of life, whereas a lot of younger people haven’t been brought up with it. Educational outreach is what we need to do.”

 The estimated economic cost of the Northern California fires is hovering around $3 billion, but the amount needed to help victims is still largely unknown. The next year may more clearly show whether individual donations to a plethora of organizations helping those individuals and businesses get back on their feet will be made at the expense of East Bay nonprofits.

“It’s a given that the critical needs of fire victims should be addressed,” Julayne Austin Virgil, CEO of Girls Inc. of Alameda County, said. “However, if the giving toward that area isn’t in addition to what the region is already doing, it may impact critical services that are currently sustaining vulnerable populations.”

Grammer of Campbell & Company said that because the fire is local, giving to other organizations will be impacted. “We’re seeing it on the news all the time. We’re smelling the smoke. We will know more next year, but we are already hearing that some large donors and foundations are allocating a good portion of their giving to fire relief.”

Just how far East Bay residents’ hearts and wallets will stretch reach remains to be seen.



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