Catalyst, Sonoma Valley funds merge to better support nonprofits
Sonoma Overnight Services found itself in a bind in 2020 when it could not feed people in need or provide services to help them at its hub, The Haven, due to pandemic and social distancing requirements.
So, SOS began renting the Sonoma Valley Grange commercial kitchen, but needed help to make the space workable and able to feed hundreds of people a day. The Sonoma Valley Catalyst Fund stepped in with $69,000, which enabled SOS to purchase two refrigerator/freezers and two work-top refrigerators so that it could serve 250 meals per day.
Then, in 2021, Catalyst Fund made donations of $11,000 and $25,000 to help fund a bilingual support specialist who could better serve Spanish-speaking people who came to SOS for support.
“Additional refrigeration helped and the new staff position helped immensely to respond quickly to those who came to SOS food-deprived or homeless,” said Katherine A. King, executive director of SOS. “The Catalyst Fund was able to respond quickly to the needs of the nonprofits in Sonoma Valley at the beginning of the pandemic during COVID challenges by providing funding for the much-needed resources to address the overwhelming needs.”
Catalyst Fund was founded by leaders of the Sonoma Valley Fund, Impact100 Sonoma and Rotary Club of Sonoma Valley in June 2020 as a temporary emergency resource to help the community better address the pandemic crisis.
Wanting to continue to fulfill and expand its mission, this month the Catalyst Fund has merged with Sonoma Valley Fund, which is the Santa Rosa-based Community Foundation Sonoma County’s long-standing regional initiative. CFSC, in turn, contributed a $500,000 founding gift to the Catalyst Fund, which it has launched a campaign to match as it manages a permanent set of funds for Sonoma Valley.
The aim of the merger is to provide a philanthropic organization that will mobilize support and innovate approaches to respond more quickly and strategically than individual donors can do alone.
“Our motto has become ‘the power of we,’” said Dub Hay, co-chair of Catalyst Fund. “That’s the title of the film we made about Sonoma’s response to the pandemic and that’s what Catalyst stands for, because better results are possible when a community joins forces in new ways.
“We live in a very giving community. That’s unusual. Catalyst wants to tap into that and raise it to the next level in terms of philanthropic effectiveness, because we live in a time when challenges are growing.”
Sonoma Valley Fund was founded to encourage donors to consider local nonprofits in their wills and trusts. Catalyst Fund plans to continue to focus on the legacy-giving work of Sonoma Valley Fund while working to raise and distribute money to address today’s urgent, emergent and chronic challenges.
“We’re at a critical moment in Sonoma Valley — a time when more people than ever are turning to nonprofits for support,” said Sheryl Alexander, interim CEO of CFSC, in a news release. “The Catalyst Fund is innovating how we can best support our community.
“We’re proud to partner with the local Valley volunteers leading this effort and will work to lend the community foundation’s philanthropic knowledge, infrastructure and grant-making experience where it’s helpful. We’re excited to see the promise of this evolution of our Sonoma Valley Fund and look forward to continuing our long-standing Valley relationships.”
Essentially, the merger will enable Catalyst Fund to convert from a temporary fund to a permanent organization.
During the peak of the pandemic, Catalyst volunteers conducted 80 listening sessions with community members to identify the greatest needs in Sonoma Valley, raised more than $1.6 million and awarded 44 grants to fill critical gaps.
“My favorite moment with Catalyst so far was looking at the cars lined up at the high school in February 2021 to get vaccines,” said Katherine Fulton, co-chair of the Fund. “The hospital and the community health center had galvanized an amazing community partnership. We played a key role to speed up the work, with a $50,000 grant made in under a week to hire a coordinator. As a result, 3,000 at-risk Sonoma Valley seniors were vaccinated in over six weeks, long before they could have gotten shots elsewhere.”
Another one of Catalyst Fund’s most notable achievements was providing a grant for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sonoma Valley to pilot a new mental health program for its youth.
“The funds Catalyst provided have allowed us to purchase the necessary items to create a safe, therapeutic space for our youth, but most importantly provided us the opportunity to offer the services free to our families through the remainder of this past school year,” said Cary Snowden, president and CEO of BGCSV. “Due to generous support from other foundations and individual donors, we are continuing those services free through the summer. None of this would have been possible without the trust and initial investment by the Catalyst Fund.”
The Catalyst Fund plans to continue partnering closely with Impact100, Rotary and other Valley nonprofits, with leadership and advice provided by a growing group of about 20 volunteers.
“While the original Catalyst Fund addressed singularly the pandemic results, the new Sonoma Valley Catalyst Fund will address broader and deeper chronic issues that still plague Sonoma Valley,” Hay said. “We hope to hold onto many of the principles that worked well for the original Catalyst: nimbleness, creativity, problem-solving, diverse representation, listening and understanding on a community level.”
Fulton says that the Sonoma Valley community faces many challenges, including poverty, climate change, the housing crisis, food insecurity, mental health issues, and drought and fire problems.
“We believe a more just and more resilient Sonoma Valley is possible if we join together in new ways, pooling resources and connecting strategies,” she said. “That is the ‘extra’ that is rarely supported. We have to strengthen our nonprofits, which are doing so much that government cannot and will not do.
“We need to get better at funding innovation, leveraging government dollars and getting ready to respond to inevitable crises quickly and well.”
Hay says that meetings are now underway to look systematically at the growing problem of food security in the Valley.
“A team of Valley leaders, led by consultants and with the participation of key food providers, are now meeting to assess why and how demand for food assistance remains high and how the Valley might respond even more effectively and efficiently,” he said. “Catalyst initiated and funded this effort because this is exactly the kind of communitywide challenge that requires us to act in more coordinated ways.”
For more information, contact sonomavalleycatalystfund.org.
Reach the reporter, Dan Johnson, at firstname.lastname@example.org.