San Bernardino County supervisors took a lot of heat for how they were using their discretionary funds: pots of money each can use for pet projects in their districts.

Some were using them to hire staff, others to help local charities. One helped build a library that got named for him. That was the last straw.

Last month, the supes voted to phase out discretionary funds.

But as a swan song, they did something really worthwhile. They pooled $225,000 — $45,000 from each district — to pay for training for local nonprofit volunteers, staffs and boards of directors.

The training will sharpen nonprofits’ ability to raise funds from major foundations.

Nonprofits in San Bernardino County receive far less foundation funding than the state average despite the area’s deep, persistent needs — poverty, homelessness, low educational attainment.

Statewide, foundation funding averages $119 per capita. In San Bernardino County, it’s $3 per capita.

(The picture is grim in Riverside County, too: $51, less than half the state average.)

The disparity was brought to light by a 2009 study funded by the James Irvine Foundation. That lit a fire under local leaders.

“It was a catalyzing moment,” said Daniel Foster, president of the Community Foundation Serving Riverside and San Bernardino Counties, which put together the training plan.

“We have some of the greatest evidence of statistical need,” Foster said. ”Why wouldn’t foundations come flooding with … resources?”

One problem is that most of the county’s 3,849 nonprofits are run by volunteers who lack the know-how to compete for grant funding.

The training will include:

Two grant-development seminars to give 50 nonprofits (10 from each district) the nuts-and-bolts skills to apply successfully for grants.

Eighty nonprofits will have access to fundraising pros who can help them submit successful proposals.

Five training sessions will target boards of directors, who have a key role in fund-raising.

A strategy to encourage nonprofits to work together, rather than compete with each other, will increase the chances of winning grants.

The training comes at a critical time, because the government grants the nonprofits have come to depend on are going away, said county CEO Greg Devereaux. The training will teach them how to cultivate other sources of money.

For four years, Supervisor Josie Gonzales, now board chairwoman, used her discretionary funding to put on grant-writing training in her central San Bernardino Valley district.

She said she has seen the difference it has made in nonprofits’ ability to win grants. She cited the Time for Change Foundation, which helps homeless women and their children.

It recently received a major grant after Executive Director Kim Carter got the training, Gonzales said.

Instead of giving nonprofits some fish, the government-funded training will teach them how to fish.

This plan makes sense.

For more on grants and grant writing, visit Grant Pros.


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