February, 2009Last week I got a message from a Texas media editor asking me if I would return his call and answer some questions about the state of nonprofits in Texas in this economy. I decided that in order to be relevant I should call and talk to some nonprofits to get the honest scoop before I called him back. Over the course of a day, I had the opportunity to speak with about 14 nonprofit executives who were totally honest with their comments. I must admit, not only was I looking for what they were experiencing today, but I was especially hoping to find some constructive trends that might be beneficial to share.
This is what I learned. Not all the news is gloomy; in fact, there is a lot of good news out there. While some groups are having a tough time, others are finding success. And it’s through creativity, good old fashioned hard work, brainstorming, networking, connecting with good communications skills, and intelligent risk taking that these organizations will navigate this tricky situation called the economy. But I still maintain that story telling is the best way to convey your need. Read on and you’ll see what I mean.
The San Antonio River Foundation
According to spokeswoman Karen Adams, the San Antonio River Foundation is enjoying great success. Individuals, foundations, and corporations have bought in to the river project realizing that their river is part of the face of San Antonio…both historically and artistically. Putting the best face forward is essential for a large city, especially one that is a tourist destination as San Antonio is. The river is the heart of San Antonio.
Their 15-mile river project will create the largest linear park in the United States. This current phase of building is a public art exhibit currently under construction and will consist of the work of 8 internationally known artists, creating 12 installations under bridges, at a cost of $9 million, over a 1.5 mile stretch of river.
One whimsical installation will be an entire school of 25 seven-foot-long brightly colored longear sunfish, which are native to the San Antonio River that will go under the I-35 overpass adjacent to Camden Street. Can you imagine floating on a barge or walking underneath a school of 7 feet long golden fish? It will be totally surreal! Floating in a barge under a bridge will be oh so cool!
Why is this group successful? Once finished, people know that this project will add to the economic viability of San Antonio drawing people from all over the world. To sum it up, this unique and well thought out project will bring interest, respect, tourists, and art patrons to San Antonio. This investment in the future of San Antonio will bring back the dollars spent on the investment. Check it out at http://www.sariverfoundation.org.
The San Antonio Museum of Art
The River Project will include access to other organizations that sit on the river as well. One will be able to walk or ride up the river to the Pearl Brewery and San Antonio Museum of Art, where passengers will be able to disembark for a tour of world-class art collections and attend creative events. The River Pavilion, will be a 3,464 square foot covered patio facing the River, open for both Museum and public events, such as festivals, receptions, lectures and meetings that can accommodate 300 people.
The River Pavilion will be linked to the existing Beretta Hops House and Luby Courtyard by an attractive 1,045 square foot covered walkway. A 1,473 square foot covered Terrace overlooking the River will be constructed along the north side of the Beretta Hops House. The Terrace will provide additional space for Hops House activities such as meetings and workshops.The new facilities and SAMA’s grounds along the river will be landscaped with native vines and flowering plants, adding to the aesthetic beauty of the area.
Visitors will be able to spend an exceptional day meandering along the river and enjoying art and nature all along the way. Imagine visiting San Antonio for the first time, boarding a boat at your downtown hotel, riding under all the public art bridges in awe, and ending up at the museum for a lovely day there and even possibly having lunch across the river at the Pearl Brewery. At the end of the day, you will board the boat back downtown, take a nap and then dress to go to a fabulous restaurant! A total investment in the infrastructure of San Antonio. Attendance at the museum will increase, and the city will be more beautiful. Learn more about SAMA at http://www.samuseum.org.
The San Antonio Parks Foundation
Lila Cockrell, our wonderful retired Mayor, now head of the San Antonio Parks Foundation, proudly talked about the Parks Foundation and it’s structure. It has several arms of funding by way of foundation, corporate, individual and friends support. She proudly mentioned that the Kleberg Foundation recently added $50,000 to a previous gift they awarded the Parks to help repair damaged walls in the ponds at the Japanese Tea Garden. This gift was in collaboration with dollars coming from the city. The gardens are exquisitly tranquil, just perfect for a lingering visit on a beautiful day. They are also a historic part of San Antonio that was important to protect and restore. Again, a donation to the Tea Garden is an investment in the future economy of our city. With great corporate and foundation support, the parks are blooming. The organization is now fund raising for $1 million restoration of the historic Jingu House – home of the Japanese family who lived in the Gardens.
To plan for the sad economy, they are tightening operating costs, and recently accepted an invitation from the city to office in the restored Espinoza House downtown at Hemisfair Park. The group also adds funds to their operating coffers from revenue generated from large events, Fiestas Fantasias (10 day Fiesta event), the July 4th Celebration at Woodlawn Lake Park, Jazz'SAlive in Travis Park, and Celebrate San Antonio (the New Year’s Eve downtown celebration. Mrs. Cockrell noted that attendance at these events is high. Check out everything there is to know about San Antonio Parks at http://www.saparksfoundation.org.
The San Antonio Children’s Museum
Visitation to the San Antonio Children’s Museum went way up in 2008. “Families come for high quality experiences with their children and with a low entry fee of just $7, we are mindful of tight budgets,” said Lupita Castrejon. When you decide to stay close to home and enjoy what your community has to offer, what a wonderful place to take your children. The museum is located right in the heart of downtown, so it is a perfect destination for tourists as well.
As far as new exhibits go, the museum is about to launch a very exciting new one that only a few cities around the world have. A generous grant from Houston’s Brown Foundation is making a popular ball drop possible in the museum. A ball drop is an interactive exhibit that introduces early physics, gravity, and fun to children. The new exhibit will be in the museum’s front window in downtown SA. You might ask, what is a ball drop? Until you actually see what a ball drop really is online, you will not have a cIue. So take a look at what the Brown Foundation is making possible in San Antonio at http://bossdisplay.com, click on museum exhibits, then Interactive Ball exhibits, and then click on and take a look at the Atlanta Childrens Museum.
When you go to the museum, don’t forget the Bubble Ranch and the H-E-B Market. The addition of new and innovative exhibits for children will bring San Antonio and tourist families back for more….this is sure. Remember, a family who plays together…stays together. Find out more about the San Antonio Children’s Museum at http://www.sakids.org.
Now about people and animals
The idea in the previous part of this article is that San Antonio has invested funds to build wonderful resources that will bring back money to the city. San Antonio will be even more in demand because of the whimsical art available to everyone, the beautiful green spaces, museums, and serene flowing water. It's fun to think about beautiful places.
But, it’s time to address some organizations that care for people and animals. It is critical not to forget these people in a time when government is pulling back on funding. Often it’s easy to shut your eyes when something is not pleasnat to look at. Please read on….
“Hang onto your mascara Jackie,” Charles Fletcher shared with me when he sent me a letter he had received that really touched his heart. As with most nonprofits, SpiritHorse is working hard to raise funds in these difficult economic times. They provide award-winning equine-assisted therapy free, to over 425 children with disabilities, children who are victims of abuse, and at-risk-youth each week at their facilities just north of Dallas. “We serve ten north Texas counties. And we currently have 83 children on our waiting list and have been unable thus far to raise the additional funds to hire more instructors so that we can serve these additional children,” he continued.
Recently they sent a note out to the parents of the SpiritHorse Children asking those whose children are ready to graduate from their program to yield their slot on a voluntary basis, to a child on their waiting list. They received several notes from parents who were willing to sacrifice their child's place in the schedule, even though those children still need their help.
Here is one of those letters, together with Charles Fletcher’s response:
"Dear Mr. Fletcher and SpiritHorse Staff,
I just wanted to take a few minutes to express my gratitude for all you do and for all you have done for my Olivia. When Olivia first started SpiritHorse she was barely walking and had only a few words. She had significant gross developmental delays and silent aspiration during swallowing due to hypotonia. She had to “drink” pudding-thick liquids, anything thinner went right into her lungs. She also has had two seizure episodes. We still do not know the cause of her hypotonia and as we have been told, her tone won’t change. However, what she can do with that tone has changed tremendously as a result of the wonderful treatment she gets from riding her pony.
These are just a few of the wonderful changes we have seen in Olivia. She started walking with improved balance within a few months of starting SpiritHorse. Her in home therapy using a standing frame and early intervention physical therapy, while helpful, did not seem to motivate Olivia and we saw few gains. Olivia seemed to come out of her shell and be much more interactive with the whole family shortly after starting SpiritHorse. Prior to that there was definitely a question as to whether she could be autistic. Olivia’s swallowing improved to allow her to drink normal liquids. Her vocabulary just kept multiplying and she is now ahead of her developmental level for speech. This from a child whom doctors couldn’t tell us if she understood us or whether she would be delayed cognitively.
Olivia has had the benefit of riding Miracle, Jellybean, Pocket, Freckles, Snowflake, and most recently Spirit. There were also a couple of others she rode for sessions when ponies were sick. The excitement she had every Wednesday that we headed down the 380 from Frisco was precious. She told everyone who would listen about how she rides ponies and brushes their hair and chooses a blanket for them. There were sessions that Olivia seemed to struggle with, when she seemed to go inward. Sometimes it was just behavioral, other incidents may be tied to her seizures, we are still trying to figure out what makes Olivia tick. But overall, she absolutely loves riding her pony.
So it is with many tears that I reluctantly write this letter to voluntarily withdraw from your wonderful program. I don’t mean to make anyone feel bad by saying it that way, it is just the truth. I believe Olivia could definitely benefit from continuing in SpiritHorse, she still has coordination, motor planning and other assorted issues. But she has come such a long way and to someone who doesn’t know her struggles and what she has been through and worked for, well, they wouldn’t believe me if I told them.
I have fears that she could regress, but I am going to trust those and Olivia to the Lord. I want another child to be able to benefit from this program as much as Olivia has. I am so grateful for all you have done for her. She has made leaps and bounds and caught up in so many areas that she was behind. Thank you doesn’t seem like enough. I hope that someday we can afford to put Olivia into riding lessons as she really does enjoy it, and I think she is pretty good for a 3.5 year old! While it is not possible at this time, my husband and I pray that someday we will be able to donate funds to help with SpiritHorse. I will never forget what you have done for my daughter, thank you. May the Lord bless you.
With deepest gratitude, Jenny "
Goosebumps yet? Well, let me tell you, I was really glad I didn’t put on any mascara that day! Read the response that Charles Fletcher sent to the family:
“It is with tears in my old eyes that I read your offer of sacrifice. Please excuse me, but I refuse to accept your offer. We love Olivia so much. We are only looking for those participants who are ready to graduate. I will not accept withdrawal of children whom we can still help. Please reconsider. If necessary, I will personally work one hour extra each week to teach our wonderful Olivia.
What more can I say? This letter is the cornerstone to the most beautiful and heartfelt fundraising campaign that any organziation could have. This testimony by a mother is precious and ackowledges the good work that SpiritHorse does, but the letter that Charles Fletcher sent back is priceless too, because it shows his human investment in these children. SpiritHorse won’t let a child fall through the cracks.
SpiritHorse can take this beautiful story and add a one page letter of request, a return stamped envelope, and I believe they will have a successful campaign. As a donor, I would welcome this letter, and know that I made a wise investment. You can learn more about Spirit Horse Therapy at www.spirithorsetherapy.com.
Respite Care serves special needs children. Their goals are to stengthen and stabilize families, to prevent possible child abuse, and to prevent or delay institutionalization. During tough times, abuse happens more often as tempers rise. It is easy to avoid reality when you deaden your senses with drugs and alcohol. Families tend to fall apart under stress – especially monetary stress.
Bert Pfeister told us that he does indeed recognize an increase of apprehension and anxiety in our community over the economy, and worries that as the demand for their services rises, as it will, so will the need for more funding so that they will be able to meet these needs. “We cannot afford to fall backwards as a community,” said Pfeister.
And he's right – we can have all the beauty in the world in San Antonio, but we must remember to offer to lift up those who need it most. Texas communities have become dependant on the nonprofits that serve the area of health and human services. We have become comfortable knowing that while the government has pulled back with their funding, the nonprofits have graciously stepped forward to fill the void. During tough economic times, nonprofit organizations that support families in crisis cannot be forgotten. While Respite Care is doing fine, they see bit of edginess hanging over communities and worry that families in need will not be provided for.Cehck out http://www.respitecaresa.org.
Somehow, some way, Julie Wisdom Wild and her crew have educated their community to the needs of their constituents….women in crisis - abused women - addicted women. They serve women who need financial assistance to attend; they also serve women who can pay for their services….sliding scale. They always have a waiting list because the need is just too big. But, the good news is - at Alpha Home, the good news is rampant. The Kronkosky Foundation recently awarded Alpha Home funding for exercise equipment that will help further their new holistic care approach that includes not only physical but spiritual support. They also granted more money to help with operating expenses. Alpha Home has also recently opened an onsite clinic for women open two evenings a week and staffed by University of Texas Health Science Center staff. Inspire Fine Arts is collaborating to provide art classes. A new project is their Alumni group of women who come back to assist at the Home. They could come to style the ladies hair, or talk about skills, anything they can share to prepare the women for re-entering the world and adding to their self-esteem. To learn more, visit http://www.alphahome.org.
The Martinez Street Womens Shelter
Joleen Garcia explained that the Shelter has become more mindful of their community and their donors. They have redoubled their efforts and placed more energy into sustaining their existing program and raising awareness of the basic needs of the families they serve. They are looking for more collaboration, researching more ways to solve problems for families in crisis, and focusing on their young girls who gather at the center. They have not seen any immediate decline in funding and look forward to another good year. Garcia explained that it is their wish to fulfill the mission of their donors and then include them in all successes. Learn more about this amazing organization at http://www.mswomenscenter.org.
Lifetime Recovery is a chemical dependency treatment center, providing residential treatment for adult men and outpatient treatment for adult men and women. J.C. Stromberger just hosted their first event (ever) this last weekend. With a great band, Rick Cavender, and a Silent Auction, their tickets sold quickly. It was new and exciting for their constituency to support. They intend to have more events, but are fiscally watching their expenditures and tightening their budget at the same time to have staying power through the economic downturn. A partnership with San Antonio’s new Haven for Hope, a campus built exclusively for San Antonio’s homeless population, is an example of the collaboration they are looking for. Learn more at http://www.lifetimerecoverytx.org.
Not all the news is good news. I saved the saddest news for last. And, the most tragic part of this story is not the economy, but the inhuman behavior of our fellow men.
SARA Sanctuary is a no-kill facility near Seguin, that provides rehabilitation to abused or abandoned domestic or factory farm animals on its 380 acre preserve. It has been featured in national magazines like Southern Living and newspapers across the country for it’s good work.
The following letter made me very sad. I visited Sara Sanctuary for animals last fall near Seguin. It was right around Thanksgiving, actually. It is a wonderful place…. dogs, pigs, cows, horses, every kind of animal you could imagine wandering around with their pals….sniffing you hello with love….all 800 of them loved and nurtured by the founder, Tracy Frank. The day I was there, I was attentive to everything – trying to learn as much as I could so that I could help them in the best way with my notorious brainstorming. A man came on the property univited while I was there and threatened Tracy and her animals in front of me and two other people who were there for our meeting. I was a little frightened I have to admit, because he seemed to mean bad business, and I was standing right there, listening to him threaten Tracy and the animals.
Meanwhile, last week I received this note from Tracy which shocked me beyond words.
I hope this note finds you well. I am writing to update you on SARA. We are faced with very serious challenges right off the bat so early in this new year. We are being impacted by the failing economy, the drought, decreases in food donations, myriad infrastructure repair needs, and outright malicious cruelty towards our animals.
I won't write a novel here, but in short, we have noticed a marked decrease in money coming in the mail. I'm starting to get a little worried (more than usual) about what to do with over 900 mouths to feed every day. Manufacturers have begun making sturdier bags and packaging for their dog food and cat food products. Good for them, but bad for us. We receive the bulk of food donations from damaged bags. We have seen our food donations cut in half.
Four months without rain has also created a hardship. Whereas before, we hardly ever had to buy hay for the horses, cattle, donkeys, and goats because there was ample coastal grass for everybody, we now are going through 10 square bales of hay per day. The price of hay is up as well.
More bad news: our water pump needs work. We need to rebuild gates and shelters need some shoring up. Yes, we're moving, but we can't just let everything fall down around us.
The really bad news -- someone has been killing our animals. People often ask me why I want to move and here's one of the many reasons: over the years we have often found dead and mutilated animals dumped along our property's perimeter. That was disturbing, and the police were notified. Last October it became even more personal and disconcerting. One of our sweet little pigs named "Spinner" disappeared on a Saturday. He was named Spinner because he had a neurological disorder which made him walk in circles. In spite of his condition he was a very happy and friendly little guy. I actually raised him with a bottle, feeding him round the clock for the first few weeks of his life. We looked for him everywhere and then the following Tuesday I found his body discarded along the backside of what used to be our property. Dumped like garbage right next to the road. He appeared to have been bludgeoned to death.
A month later, the Friday before Thanksgiving, another friendly pig named Porkchop also disappeared. Porkchop (the name he came with) had been somebody's pet and was super friendly. He had big menacing looking tusks, but was gentle as a puppy. We have never found him.
Fast forward a month to Christmas Eve, the employees arrived early as always and discovered the remains of one of our very large pigs named Collin next to our gate. I went down to the road to find his hide with his tail still attached and all of his internal organs underneath it. When we cleaned up his remains we found a Coors beer box. He was not killed here. Someone had to take him which wouldn't have been very hard because he, too, was friendly and would do anything for an apple. Like the others he had to be lured away and killed somewhere else. We found no signs of trauma or blood on our property. It's difficult to hear what goes on down at our gate because it's pretty far from the compound.
A week later on New Year's Eve, we discovered a little red female dog that had beaten to death and left in a plastic bag. The next day, January 1st, Collin's face was lying in the grass in the same spot where his hide had been left the week before. It had been neatly cut away from his skull so that when held up it looked like a giant pig mask.
Just last week, January 29th, 6 mutilated pigs were left in the same place- at the gate. This time the bodies were piled on top of each other with one head arranged so that it was facing upwards and placed on top of a large mound of internal organs and bloody bones. Two little piglets had their intestines strewn about. I'm sorry to be so graphic, but it was a very gruesome sight. I have pictures, but I chose not to share those. These were not our pigs, but that doesn't diminish the senselessness and malice of the act.
The police are investigating and we don't really have any leads. Who would do such horrible things and why? I don't have an answer for either question. It's heart breaking and frightening. We all know about the connection between abuse of animals and people. Serial killers practice on animals. We cannot afford a security guard, and I now carry a gun with me at night. That may sound crazy, but I feel I have to in order to protect the animals and myself. We keep the gate locked. The police and animal control have been nice and they are working with us. Porkchop and Collin were both featured in our fall printed newsletter.
Of course, not all of my news is bad; there are also some very positive developments on the home front: We have a new, more involved board of directors. A new product called "Pet Ice" that should eradicate the fleas and ticks out here is being donated. An architect from Austin has offered his services pro bono to design the new shelter out west and a generous trucking company from San Antonio is donating the materials to build the new shelters for the animals- they will be almost free and it's very green! We're going to use old tires and dirt and gravel. Check out "Earthships" on the internet.
We are starting to get food for the pigs given to us from restaurants and grocers. We have a thrift/pet store in the works and we are excited about our new "bed and breakfast" for people who want to take a working vacation at SARA.
So, that's what's going on here. We urgently need your help right now. We must raise $25,000 as soon as possible. Can you donate cash, food, your time? Please feel free to contact me personally if you want more information about any of the content of this letter.
Thank you for all you do for SARA.
I have no words here. I am stunned. It wouldn’t surprise me if the culprits could be people who live nearby because SARA is totally off the beaten path. No one would know it or the animals were there if they had no prior knowledge. Crazy isn’t the right word here – maybe lunatic.
In the case of Tracy Frank’s SARA Sanctuary, I do believe she should quickly raise the funds to move to west Texas and we should all donate something to help her move. You can learn more about how to help SARA Sanctuary at http://www.sarasanctuary.org. Their need is urgent…as you can tell from Tracy’s compelling letter.
The need is great…far more than there are dollars to go around. As have most every individual and most very entity, the portfolios of many foundations, corporations and individuals have taken big hits. I spoke with several foundations and a couple of corporations across the state in the last few weeks who all basically said they are working very hard to do the most good with fewer resources. They are being very careful in choosing organizations to fund. They must have a good reputation, solid leadership, good communications skills, financials, and support from their boards.
And of course the trend is to give more to one organizatioon to really try to encourage impact. So, possibly there will be fewer gifts that are larger.
Organizations need to be able to tell a good story – a success story – one that can exhibit the good they can provide the community whether it be in the field of the arts or human services. They need to drive donor’s passion.
Young people want to be involved – they have high hopes that their dollars and investment of time might make the difference that their community needs.
Following up with the Editor
After learning all of this, I placed a call back to the editor. He expalined the story had already been written from some previous interviews and in fact he just needed a little data from us at this point. I asked him if his theme was doom and gloom and he acknowledged that it was. I said, wait… it’s not just doom and gloom. I’ve just heard some glorious news from some very creative organizations that are taking interesting approaches to fundraising and communications. They are getting creative with their words and their actions.
But, the editor was not interested in hearing the good news. He kindly said thank you and goodbye. At this point I knew that I had to write a positive article about the fish that swim hard upstream…the fighters who work hard for our communities. If we constantly read about all that is wrong, we will never see the good that surrounds us every day.
We have a chance through the next two years to shake out bad habits we got ourselves into as a civilization. We can start fresh and prioritize our list of goals for ourselves, our children, and those who share our communities. How exciting is this? The dynamics for this kind of change do not come around very often. It is rare that everything is in place at the same time.
Please search your heart to figure out what excites your passion. Is it a puppy named Cassie, or a child named Juan? Is it a great work of art or a children’s exhibit?
There’s a silver lining around every potential dark cloud….just right before the sun pokes out. Look for it.