The Siuslaw news. (Florence, Lane County, Or.) 1960-current, December 13, 2017, WEDNESDAY EDITION, Page 7A, Image 7

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from 1A
time, helps out with the Siuslaw
Public Library and helps hang the
Christmas garlands in Historic Old
Along the way, he has learned
the good sides of volunteerism, the
downsides and has gained a keen
understanding of what philanthro-
py in the Siuslaw region is, and
what it can become.
When Mealer first arrived in
Florence, he was faced with some-
thing that almost all retirees are
faced with after the initial thrill of
throwing away the shackles of the
daily grind: boredom.
“I had been busy all my life, so
just sitting at home and watching
Jeopardy isn’t going to happen,” he
said. “I had been a gardener for a
long time. Food share (was) look-
ing for volunteers for gardening.
So that started the ball.”
When he first arrived at
Florence Food Share, the garden
was small, just a tiny section on the
north side of the property. Despite
its stature, it would still take hours
to maintain. One of the biggest
challenges was watering.
“When I was first here, you had
to hand water the plants three
hours a day,” Mealer said.
To help alleviate the problem,
Florence Food Share turned to one
of the major components of all
nonprofits: grants.
“You can’t make up a story”
Funding a nonprofit organiza-
tion is a complicated process, using
everything from grants to bake
Grants are an often-misunder-
stood source of funding for non-
profit organizations, and some-
times that misunderstanding can be
hugely detrimental.
Florence Food Share saw this
first hand with the expansion of
their building, which they were
forced to do as a result of new
requirements from Lane County.
To pay for the expansion, the
organization turned to grants,
along with private donations
specifically set aside for the proj-
ect. The money couldn’t be used
for anything else.
But when the expansion began
in earnest, cash donations plum-
meted, which were vital to the day-
to-day operations, like payroll and
Food share executives saw that
the public’s perception of that
expansion gave the impression it
was “rolling in the dough.”
“Grantors don’t like to fund
“Grantors like to fund projects —
capital improvements and things.
For those things, grants are the
lifeblood. But most likely these are
going to be restricted funds. You
have to be specific on what you use
the money for and what it’s going
to do. You have to tell a compelling
story. And you can’t make up a
For the garden, the beginning of
the story was the watering prob-
lems the volunteers were having in
the garden.
Food Share turned to the
Confederated Tribes of the Coos,
Lower Umpqua and the Siuslaw
Indians for a grant to help with
this. The tribes awarded the non-
profit a grant that would build up
the garden’s irrigation system, tak-
ing rainwater and running it
through drip systems that were set
to timers.
The story ended with no more
hand watering, and the grantors
loved the ending.
“(The tribe) actually came down
here a couple years later to check it
out, and they were impressed,”
Mealer said.
But an organization can’t rely
solely on grants for a number of
reasons. First, they can be really
hard to get.
The process can be time con-
suming, with some grants taking
up to a year to write. And often,
there are multiple entities compet-
ing for the same grant.
Being awarded a grant is never
guaranteed. If the food share’s
refrigerator breaks down and the
program waits for a grant to fix it,
there’s a real possibility the refrig-
erator will remain broken for years.
Even if an organization is
awarded a grant, the paperwork
can be overwhelming. Every step
of the project has to be document-
ed; plans have to be followed to a
T, receipts have to be collected,
reports have to be filed. Countless
hours can be spent just to justify
the grant, let alone the work that
goes into implementing it.
And then sometimes, long-term
grants just disappear.
Mealer spoke of a grant that
helped fund the garden twice a
year for two years, but then the
funding stopped.
“They said, ‘Okay, we gave you
money for two years, and now you
have to go somewhere else,’”
Mealer said.
The donor organization wanted
to spread the money around to dif-
ferent organizations to help as
diverse a population as possible.
“You can’t rely on grants
because you can’t always have
capital projects. You can’t just say,
‘We’re going to build this, this and
this.’ You build all this capital
improvement, then who’s going to
run it? You got to have the back-
stream,” he said.
That backstream leads to what
can be a real financial backbone of
a nonprofit: endowments.
“That’s where the bacon is”
Almost every organization has
operational costs that include paid
staff, benefits and monthly expens-
es like utility bills or standard
maintenance. A healthy endow-
ment can fund operational costs for
“That’s where the bacon is,”
Mealer said.
For instance, an individual can
will their property to an organiza-
tion’s endowment fund after they
pass away. The organization sells
the property and puts the cash in
the fund.
“But you don’t want to draw the
principle, you just want to take off
the interest,” Mealer explained. “If
it’s four percent of half a million
dollars, that’s fairly good money
that you can use in your opera-
But it’s not just big donations
like a home that can fund endow-
ments. Small donations can be
given too, and it’s done for various
reasons. One of the biggest is tax
But some organizations don’t
have endowments to build interest
on, especially ones in their infancy.
That leads to the final way non-
profits get money: cold calling and
bake sales.
“You have to be able to cold
call,” Mealer said. “Board mem-
bers that are salesmen or car deal-
ers, they’re the best. You have to
convince (those who donate) that
you do a feel-good thing for them
to donate to, or to put in their will
to fund their operation. You have to
be a salesman.”
Those who run nonprofits spend
a large portion of their time calling
individuals for donations, or hold-
ing fundraisers to fill their opera-
tional costs.
“Money doesn’t come from on
high with this big bucket of cash.
You have to pound the pavement,”
Mealer said.
When someone does donate to
an organization, their name goes
on a donor list.
“Every organization has a donor
list,” Mealer said. “It’s a prized,
private list. These are our donors.
They don’t share that. That’s just
your list. That’s people you ask for
funds. But that’s the key for any of
these organizations, is getting
donations. That’s what helps this
thing run.”
But sometimes those donor lists
can run dry.
“You gotta be careful that you
don’t overwhelm your donor
base,” Mealer said. “What they’ll
say is, ‘I’m tapped out, I can’t give
anymore.’ Especially if you’re cold
calling, they might say, ‘Not this
year. I’ve already donated to this.’”
The donor lists can also lead to
competition between organiza-
tions, which don’t share their lists.
This contributes to a lack of coop-
eration, which Mealer thinks is the
biggest problem facing the region’s
nonprofits today.
“SOS does its little thing and
they support these programs,”
Mealer said. “Helping Hands is
doing a lot of the same things, as is
Catholic Community Services. We
don’t talk. A lot of times there’s
reluctance because we have our
donors. This is our money and
grants and we don’t want to let
people compete. It’s crazy…. We
need to play nice.
“If you have three different
organizations that apply for a big
honker grant, (grantors) like that.
They like community collaboration
to fund something. That’s my ban-
ner that I’m flagging. I want to get
everybody together. How can we
collaborate and work smarter, and
be able to share resources and col-
laborate to help the community?”
Organizing can also help the
clients these nonprofits serve feel
more human, Mealer believes.
Clients can feel ashamed to get the
services they desperately need.
“There is a stigma,” Mealer
said. “There are a lot of people in
this town who qualify to come (to
food share), but they won’t.”
Mealer brought up clothing
donations. There are multiple
organizations in town that donate
clothing, from churches to SOS to
sporadic fundraisers throughout
the year, but accepting these dona-
tions can be uncomfortable, or
even dehumanizing. Instead,
Mealer prefers vouchers.
“Personally, I’m really a big fan
of using Saint Vincent DePaul
because everybody uses it,” he
said. “People that have income and
jobs go shopping there. And so,
instead of going to SOS to get free
clothes, give them a voucher to go
shopping. It gives somebody the
self-respect that they’re going to
the same place that everybody else
goes to get discount clothes, and
they’re not going to SOS to get
handouts. … That’s one of the
things, for a client, to feel like
you’re not downtrodden.”
Not only would this help allevi-
ate some possible shame for those
who accept the donations, he
believes, but possibly help change
the mind of those who condemn
them. Whenever programs like
SOS are brought up in conversa-
tion, negative comments toward
clients can be prevalent — “they’re
just a bunch of transients.”
“That’s the misconception,”
Mealer said. “We live on Highway
101. In the summertime, you’re
going to get transients. That’s just
the nature of the beast. Most of the
people who go to food share aren’t
transients. These are people who
live here and have three jobs and
they’re trying to survive. It’s like
fake news. It’s people telling some-
one, ‘Yeah, it’s just a bunch of old
bums and transients who are taking
away food from my baby.’ I don’t
think it’s really widespread, but it’s
out there.”
To overcome that misconcep-
tion, Mealer advocates inviting
people into these organizations to
see what work they actually do,
which leads to the most important
part of volunteerism: people.
“Are you just a bunch of old
white guys?”
As a volunteer coordinator for
the Van Fans, Mealer has seen a
whole host of reasons people vol-
unteer. The program provides
transportation to Eugene for local
residents with cancer. Driving the
bus can make palms sweat.
“There’s a lot of risk there, espe-
cially if you drive Highway 126,”
Mealer said. “You’re in a big honk-
ing bus that goes 55 miles per hour.
Everybody hates you because
you’re going 55. And you have the
lives of cancer patients behind
Why in the world would some-
one go through that?
“I’ve gotten every answer you
can think of,” Mealer said. “It’s
cancer survivors. ‘I rode that bus, I
want to do it.’ I also get people
who say, ‘I’m bored. I don’t have
anything to do.’ It runs the gamut.
Everybody has different reasons
why they do things. A lot of it is
Basically, you have a core group of
people that work together. You
don’t work anymore and you want
to be part of society. A lot of peo-
ple here who run the pantry, it’s the
same crew that works. And they
get along together.”
And the people who do
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