TAHOE CITY, Calif. — Out of challenges, come opportunities.
The Tahoe Fund, a private nonprofit organization created in 2010, is proof of that, rising up to fill a funding need for environmentally centered projects around the basin at a time when federal and state dollars are drying up.
“Public-private partnerships is really a new trend, and they’re seeing it happen all over the country,” said Tahoe Fund CEO Amy Berry, who was hired in May 2012. “Specific to environmental work, it’s not a new concept at all — we just never needed it in Tahoe.”
It’s a funding trend she doesn’t foresee ending anytime soon. By collecting private dollars from an array of funders — companies, foundations and private individuals — the Tahoe Fund has helped fund six basin projects in the past two years.
“Sometimes our donations or our funding isn’t huge, but it’s a tipping point for the project,” said Allen Biaggi, a member of the fund’s board of directors, during a joint interview with Berry on Monday. “It gets the project to a point where it can actually happen and can actually occur, and that’s very valuable.”
In 2011, the Tahoe Fund gave $50,000 to help complete a segment of the Tahoe bike trail network, provide Van Sickle Bi-State Park operating support, and help UC Davis publish its annual State of the Lake report.
In 2012, the fund gave about $55,000 to the Incline Village Third Creek restoration project, the Rabe Meadow Bike Trail on the South Shore, and the lower Blackwood Creek and Eagle Rock Restoration project on the West Shore.
“There’s a sense right now that environmental improvement projects are kind of nice to have, but really what we understand at this level, is their need to have; they’re critical,” Berry said. “If we don’t get these projects funded and in the ground, we’re going to have serious environmental issues at the lake.”
As for this year, the Tahoe Fund plans on awarding funding to four or five projects, including lookouts at Sand Harbor and a bridge at Angora Creek, Berry said, endeavors that wouldn’t be possible without private donations.
To date, the Tahoe Fund has raised more than $1 million through multi-year pledges, grants and donations, Berry said.
“It’s amazing how quickly the Fund took off and raised a bunch of money, but if you raise a bunch of money and then give it all away, we’re not going to be here for the long term,” she said. “The goal is long-term sustainability.”
The Founders Circle, a campaign that’s raised about $860,000 for the organization since May 2011 with the goal of hitting the $1 million mark this year, features corporate donors such as Vail Resorts, alongside foundations such as the Blum Family Foundation and private individuals such as Woody and Denise Shackleton.
“We decided to become Founders Circle members because we believe in preserving and protecting the unique beauty of the entire Lake Tahoe Basin, while also facilitating responsible developments that allow residents and visitors to get the most out of their Tahoe experiences,” the Shackletons said in a Tahoe Fund quarterly newsletter.
As for if conflicts arise on how to use the money due to its range of funders, Berry said there are none.
“An operating principle for a nonprofit is to try to have a diverse mix of funds coming in,” she said. “If you put all of your support into one bucket and the bucket goes away, you’re in trouble, so most nonprofits try to have a really good mix of revenue.”
Projects the Tahoe Fund supports have to be ones that are ready to go; can be categorized as either conservation, recreation or education; and take place all around the lake, with the board of directors — just as diverse as its donors — making the final project selections.
“I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how little conflict there is,” Biaggi said. “Sure, there is differences in opinion, but people here, on the board, are here to work together and to come up with solutions.”
Three years after its inception, everything is in place for the organization, Berry said, and the next focus will be to expand the Tahoe Fund by doing more outreach.
“Lake Tahoe isn’t perceived just as a local resource; it’s a world-wide recognized environmental gem, so there’s a lot of people out there who are willing to put resources toward its protection,” said Biaggi, adding that outreach is being conducted in San Francisco, Las Vegas and Los Angeles, besides around the basin.
As for the long term, the organization hopes to raise $50 million for projects over the next 10 years, said Cindy Gustafson, board of directors chair, with a chuckle.
“I think if we grow as successfully as we hope to, hopefully there’s a few more zeros at the end of the checks we’re writing,” Berry added.