A giving community, a foundation that leads

Andrew Vonderschmitt
Mountain Democrat

A community foundation’s role is one of stewardship. Through careful management of donated resources, a foundation identifies needs within a community and allocates those resources accordingly.

To date, a total of $3.2 million has come into the El Dorado Community Foundation’s Caldor Fund. Of that, $1.4 million has been distributed to El Dorado County residents impacted by the devastating wildfire. The foundation has taken no administrative fees from the fund and does not plan to do so, according to its Executive Director Bill Roby.

The El Dorado Community Foundation, established in 1991, is dedicated to serving those in need through the direct support of the community and organizations who passionately give for the benefit of all, according to the foundation’s website.

When the Caldor Fire sparked Roby said he knew need would be coming — and coming soon.

“The fire started on Sunday; the foundation met on that Monday,” said Roby. “As a foundation we understood very distinctly that when you’re able to put funding back into a community at the very start of a public emergency, especially when you have so many people being dislocated, you can avoid a lot of downstream problems.”

Within six hours of forming the Caldor Fund donations came rolling in.

“As soon as we opened that fund on that Tuesday, money poured in; it’s still coming in today. It’s just amazing how many people stepped up,” said Kathy Haven, El Dorado Community Foundation program coordinator.

Lois Roberts, the foundation’s donor services coordinator, immediately looked to the foundation’s more than 275 funds, not knowing what success the Caldor Fund would see. Instead he got a heartwarming surprise.

“That first round of donors came from individuals really; it was just amazing,” she said, noting that the majority of those individual donations made in the first days of the Caldor Fire were between $50 and $100. To date, 47% of the Caldor Fund has come from individual donors, primarily from the local region.

As the blaze continued in its path of destruction, more donations came. The foundation started seeing business donations — roughly 42% of the fund is made up of them.

“Then there was this other outpouring … people who wanted to do fundraisers,” Roberts said. Fundriasers brought in more than $320,000.

Learning lessons from support efforts in other fire-ravaged communities of Northern California, the El Dorado Community Foundation pushed out messaging to the community to determine the needs of those impacted.

“We didn’t see mounds of clothing at the evacuation centers — it was actual people donating the funding that we were asking them for to provide short-term and long-term support,” Roby said.

That funding was immediately turned around to the community.

“The applications rolled in,” recalled Haven. “We had 142 in the first 12 hours.”

According to Haven, in those early days, a similar number of applications came in each day.

The application and vetting process was refined over the course of the first couple weeks. As the team got better at the process and learned what worked and what didn’t, the applications were simplified, as was the distribution apparatus.

Vetting was straightforward. Foundation staff would confirm that the applicants’ address was within a mandatory evacuation area and they made sure applications were complete.

The distribution also underwent some changes along the way as they discovered cutting checks for each applicant would be too labor intensive. After the first round they moved to gift cards.

All told, the El Dorado Community Foundation received more than 5,000 applications.

“In the beginning it was really simple to compare 142 names and addresses but by the end, comparing 5,600 names and addresses was a full-time job,” said Haven.

The foundation’s team also had some coaching from a mental health expert to help them communicate with community members experiencing shock and loss.

These residents had just been evacuated, many in the middle of the night, not knowing if they would ever see their homes again. Foundation staff was for many the first person they talked to, according to Roby.

“They had a story to tell and they wanted somebody to tell it to,” Roby explained. “It was just that person who was there to say, ‘The community is here for you, don’t worry.'”

The El Dorado Community Foundation recently shifted from a relief grant process that provided immediate assistance to a recovery grant that has a separate application process offering monthly rental assistance for any resident whose primary residence had 25% or more property damage.

“We’re paying their landlord wherever they’re staying now,” said Haven.

According to Haven, the foundation has had roughly 40 families apply for rental assistance. With nearly 500 homes officially lost to the Caldor Fire more applications are expected.

“As a community foundation we were able to assist individuals individually, which is what we did with the gift cards,” said Roby. “But once the mandatory evacuations are lifted, or the disaster declaration is lifted, then we have to work through nonprofits.”

Looking at the fundraising efforts by other nonprofits in the community, Roby asks those nonprofits to, instead of giving directly to the Caldor Fund, utilize their funding to move programs and services to south county.

“I would rather see them utilize that money moving into that community than provide that money to the Caldor Fund,” said Roby. “They need them.”

A group currently coming to fruition with the help of foundation staff, is the Unmet Needs Committee.

“There are a few nonprofits that are going down there and doing the work,” said Avis Jolly, El Dorado Community Foundation’s impact officer. “The more (nonprofits) that come to the table, the easier the lift.”

Support is still coming from the foundation and the community continues to support those efforts.

“We really look at this in three stages and I think it’s important for the community to understand that,” said Roby. “Those are relief, recover and rebuild.”

There is a reserve in the Caldor Fund of between $1.2 million and $1.5 million that will take the foundation through the recovery stage of the efforts.

“It is so easy in today’s environment to get caught up in the news cycle,” said Roby. “This isn’t just something that appeared on Channel 3 and it’s all over. It’s not over.

“We all need to stay invested,” he urged. “This is an investment. It’s an investment in who we are and what we are.”

The El Dorado Community Foundation continues to offer support in the recovery process and to look ahead to rebuilding. For more information go to

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