California Desert City Helps Local Nonprofits while Helping Itself

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November 27, 2013; Riverside Press-Enterprise

In a textbook example of a public-private partnership, the Temecula, California city council has unanimously approved a corporate sponsorship program that allows the Southern California city to solicit donations to help bankroll the offerings of its parks department, and split them with local nonprofits.

The Riverside Press-Enterprise reports that the city of 105,000, located on the edge of the desert about 85 miles east of Los Angeles, is now spending about $5 million a year in general fund money to support the so-called Community Services Department (CSD), which also receives funding from a special local tax.

The department is responsible for organizing and hosting community classes and programs for thousands of seniors, youngsters and adults, and maintaining all of the city’s parks and facilities. In the past, the city’s redevelopment agency paid part of the tab for amenities like the local ice rink. But the agency was shut down, along with another 400+ in California, as part of Gov. Jerry Brown’s state budget in 2012.

The idea is to seek philanthropic support for such things as a concert series at the city’s civic center, the city’s fireworks show and for the sale of naming rights to a city facility, such as a skateboard park, to help defray maintenance costs—all fundraising activities traditionally performed by charities. But the local nonprofit community, which already goes to local philanthropists for support, was concerned that solicitations from politically powerful city officials could hurt their fundraising efforts.

The sponsorship program proposal immediately prompted questions about how it would affect the city’s nonprofits. Some councilmembers were concerned that it could end up hurting those nonprofits that tap the marketing and community support budgets of area businesses and the local arms of national corporations for funding help. So to protect the nonprofits, it was proposed to give them a percentage of the money taken in by the sponsorship program, according to the paper.

After considerable debate, the council adopted an amended plan to allow the city to seek out sponsorships in 2014 and keep track of where the money is coming from. At the end of the year, the CSD will give back 50 percent of the donations generated by the program to local nonprofits. The plan also calls for the department to determine how the city’s program is affecting the nonprofit community.

If it works, said the article, local nonprofits won’t be hurt by the program and the revenue-sharing split could be amended in future years. The plan is a refreshing change of pace from those cities where local government and charities—both pledged to serve communities and residents in need—contentiously compete for scarce local dollars.—Larry Kaplan