Profitable nonprofit partnerships

Politically and culturally, the American public frequently appears to be caught on the horns of a moral dilemma that divides us roughly and often raucously into two opposing factions.

One faction insists that government, as an agent of the people, should assume some significant responsibility for assuring the survival of the weakest and most vulnerable among us.

The other faction insists that a free market, and private initiative, when released from government control, will generate the wealth and opportunity to lift everyone to basic security, if not prosperity.

Salvation through government, some argue, leads to enslavement by government.

Relying on the free market, others argue, is akin to dumping vulnerable people naked into wild nature, left to the mercy of the fang and the claw.

Notwithstanding all that, most cultures embrace some form of a social compact directing everyone to accept some obligation for – as Christ put it – “the least of these” our brothers and sisters. Our culture remains perpetually in search of a workable balance between private charity and public subsidy, but meanwhile too many people are hungry, homeless, under-educated and out of work.

And that leads us to a notable phenomenon in the Sonoma Valley in which businesses have stepped up to fill the resource gap by adopting organizations and causes as their own.

We recently profiled the unique relationship between El Verano School and the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa, in which the wealthiest business in the springs has adopted the poorest school in the district (at least as measured by socio-economic demographics). The relationship between El Verano School and SMI has enriched both partners in numerous ways and begs the question of whether other prominent businesses could establish similar, singularly-focused relationships with other Valley schools. We’re certain that El Verano’s powerhouse principal, Maite Iturri, would be happy to offer advice on how to explore that path.

But schools aren’t the only recipients of targeted support from Valley businesses. The WillMar Family Grief and Healing Center, which offers free counseling and support groups for hundreds of Valley kids and families, has a well-established relationship with Gloria Ferrer Winery, which has, among other things, produced a dedicated wine series for the center and sells hand-painted birdhouses in the tasting room with proceeds going to WillMar.

Now, in a new initiative WillMar calls “The Trio of Hope and Healing,” the center has received commitments from Benziger Family Winery and Jacuzzi Family Winery to rotate hosting sponsorship of their annual gala fundraiser. Thus in March, there will be Jazz at Jacuzzi, which was preceded by Nantucket in the Caves at Gloria Ferrer in 2012, and Barcelona in the Barn at Benziger last year.

Other notable partnerships include Jack London State Historic Park with the Transcendence Theatre Company and (again) Benziger Winery. But perhaps most remarkable is the Exchange Bank’s commitment to the Doyle Scholarship Fund and Santa Rosa Junior College. The bank has channeled more than $76 million to some 115,000 students since 1948, many from the Valley.

There are other examples occurring quietly all around us, and we’d love to see even more.