On a pleasant day last year a Community Foundation of Western Nevada donor accompanied a staff member to summer camp at Lake Tahoe. The sun was warm and soothing, the Lake glittered bright blue, and spirits of the campers were high as they exited the school bus and stepped into the pines.
These campers were 5th graders from a local elementary school. This was the first glimpse of the Lake for many of the students. Few of the children had ever been camping or attended a summer camp. The school principal and 5th grade teachers introduced the wide eyed kids to the camp staff and explained the day's program.
The students were going to spend the next few days living and learning at the Great Basin Outdoor School. Our donor had made it possible for the entire class to participate even though few families in the school could afford to pay for the experience. The donor visited with the students, attended classes on geology and birding and learned first-hand the impact her gift was making on children's lives. It was a gratifying and memorable afternoon that sparked a discussion about giving to make a real difference. She felt her gift was well used as it opened up and enlarged the students' appreciation for the world around them.
Northern Nevada is an attractive and vibrant place, and I'm proud to be a part of this community. I have to say though that friends and family who live elsewhere do not fully share my enthusiasm. Although the RSCVA, EDAWN, and others have worked hard to share the exciting attributes of our community, as well as the positive changes underway, it takes experiencing first hand and seeing with your own eyes to understand a region's true appeal.
The same misconceptions apply for many people when they think of charities. There is an expression in media, "If it bleeds it leads." Stories about charities in the news often focus on charities that are doing a poor job. Noisy negative coverage makes it easy to paint all charities with that same brush.
At the Community Foundation, we get to know real stories of the wide scope of good work local charities accomplish. In our 18 year history we've granted out $80 million to hundreds of charities, most of them local. We don't just send out checks. We check out the charities' tax returns, make site visits, and talk with staff and board members. Many of our grants are restricted for specific purposes that require reports about how the funds were used. We also caution donors about charities that need to make improvements and talk with the charities themselves, but these are the exceptions. "Seeing is believing." It is best to experience our community and our local charities before forming judgments.
Have you heard of Ecotourism? Voluntourism? How about charitable tourism? Have you ever considered taking a "guided tour" of a local charity operation? The staff at most nonprofit organizations will be delighted to help you learn more about their work. Whether your interest is in the Tahoe Rim Trail, The YOUth Resource Center operated by the Eddy House, the Boys & Girls Clubs, or the work Keep Truckee Meadows Beautiful does to keep our community clean; this type of tourism can be fun and meaningful. I'm certain you will find that the charities you visit are not just effective and important, but also frugal, well run, and cost effective. You will also see that the need the charity is meeting is real, complex, and in many cases, persistent.
Local charities are run by a board of local citizens who have a deep commitment and likely also make personal donations. The charity probably also leverages in-kind gifts, volunteer support, and contributed property. Most nonprofits operate on a fraction of the cost it would take for regular profit-generating business to provide the same services.
You could take your local "charitable tourism" to the next level by taking a "charitable staycation" to volunteer for a week or two. Feeling social? Consider hosting your own "dinner gala fundraiser" by inviting a few neighbors to a potluck and make a combined donation to Food Bank of Northern Nevada. Get together with a friend and regularly volunteer your musical or puzzle-solving skills at a nursing home or spend a healthy and fun hour together walking dogs at the Nevada Humane Society.
The vibrancy of our community is more than shopping centers, movie theaters, neighborhoods, and main streets. We live in a beautiful, soulful place. I encourage you to take a drive on a back street or a trip to a part of town you've never visited. Attend a performance by a nonprofit theater group. Participate in the Truckee Meadows Parks Foundation Trail Challenge and experience guided hikes of the many public trails in and around the cities.
The Community Foundation can help you connect to your community in a way that is meaningful to you. We encourage a local focus on giving and help people give now and through their estates. We bring caring residents together to address specific community issues, such as our work to help youth who are experiencing homelessness. Learn more at www.nevadafund.org.
Join with the thousands of local citizens that have made supporting our community a priority in their lives. You will reap personal rewards, and the community will benefit from our combined efforts. Imagine the possibilities. Together we can redefine "hospitality" as something our entire community imbues, not just certain tourism industries. Discover what our region has to offer and many ways you can help make it even better.