COTS shifts fundraising strategy

(Editor's Note: This is the first in a series on how Petaluma nonprofits are finding creative ways to survive despite an uncertain economy.)

With local nonprofits like the Committee on the Shelterless and Petaluma People Services Center facing an unprecedented loss of government funding this year and other financial challenges brought about by the recession, it might come as a surprise that they are making risky-sounding moves like expanding some programs and hiring new fundraising staff.

But, nonprofit leaders say such actions are critical for their survival, marking a shift away from unpredictable government funding to more self-sustaining strategies.

Just this May, COTS acknowledged a "devastating" loss of funds after redevelopment agencies were dissolved and Petaluma lost $3 million for organizations that provide affordable housing, such as COTS, PPSC, and PEP Housing.

At the time, COTS predicted that it might have to close its Mary Isaak Center homeless shelter during the day and cut programs.

Unexpected financial assistance came from city's in-lieu housing fund —?an amount that is about half of what COTS previously received from redevelopment agencies — and is easing the transition from government funding. But, within two to three years, that money will be gone and organizations like COTS will need to have other funding sources in place.

To address the issue, COTS' leaders have crafted a new strategy to shift from relying primarily on government funding to focusing on private donations.

"It's always a story of less funding, of nonprofits struggling to make do," said Mike Johnson, chief operating officer at COTS. "This is the other side of the story — because we've got such great support, because we're doing a phenomenal job, other opportunities have opened up that allow us to grow and keep serving."

COTS' Executive Director John Records explained that his organization has traditionally received about two-thirds of its funding from government sources and one-third from private sources. Now, he says, it is in the process of reversing that ratio.

To help spread the word about COTS' financial need, the organization recently appointed two high-profile board members and hired two new fundraising staff members.

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