Evicted! Why This Community Funder Won’t Be Paying Nonprofits’ Rent Anymore

This summer we shared some good news with you about $5 million going to local safety net services, thanks to the Marin Community Foundation (MCF). Local nonprofits in Marin County have been vocal about their needs for unrestricted funds because they offer such a wide variety of services to address community needs. And MCF listened and responded with two-year general support grants to give these groups a bit of “wiggle room” to stabilize themselves.

Related: Another Funder Who Gets the Need for General Support

We applauded MCF’s responsiveness a couple months ago, but more recently, some news surfaced that has raised some eyebrows about MCF’s local commitment.

Years ago, the foundation bought two office buildings in San Rafael to help struggling local nonprofits have a place to work and grow. Well now, MCF is selling those buildings for over $11.6 million, and it’s not certain where all the nonprofits housed here will go.

Most nonprofits working from 30 N. San Pedro Road, near the Marin Civic Center, and from 555 Northgate Drive in Terra Linda have until about December 2017 to move out and into somewhere else. But with rent prices in the area steadily rising, it won’t be easy without MCF subsidizing a portion of the rent.

“It’s not our main book of business,” said Thomas Peters, president of the Marin Community Foundation. “We need, just like any business, to focus — and owning real estate and being landlords is really not a central part of our business — so time to change.”

MCF has asserted that it bought the buildings during the recession to provide “emergency space,” not permanent space for local groups. A main goal of this initial effort was to help Family Service Agency, which provides behavioral and mental health services to children, adults, and families.

MCF’s plan to sell has been underway for about a year, but it still came as a shock to some nonprofit leaders working inside those buildings. Other nonprofits being affected by MCF’s change of heart include Legal Aid of Marin, Advocates for Children, Spectrum LGBT Center, Grassroots Leadership Network, Family & Children’s Law Center, the Asian Advocacy Project, Buckelew Programs, Marin Child Care Council, Marin Workforce Housing Trust, and the Marin affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

“Groups like ours that are on an extremely low budget can rent conference rooms for free and have meetings,” said Christina Bradley who tried to reserve a room for a Music Teachers’ Association of California meeting. “Where are they going to go?”

Now it’s important to remember that MCF has historically done more than just traditional grantmaking. Not only has it helped subsidize the rent for nonprofits in the area, but it also has a loan fund that provides financing options to nonprofits that can’t afford or get access to commercial debt. But now it seems that MCF is looking to focus its giving efforts a bit narrower.

Yet Peters has said that he doubts the sale of these buildings will be any real threat to the nonprofits working there now. This may suggest that these groups will see MCF support in other ways in the near future. In addition to rent subsidiaries, the nonprofits working in MCFs’ buildings have received furniture, equipment, and IT services as well.

“Any organization is always welcome to apply to us for consideration about their costs; that’s what we do,” Peter said. “We’ve been a pretty good supporter and funder of many, many programs, so I would not expect any dire consequences.”

The good news out of all of this is that after the sale, there should be a significant chunk of money to go around for other purposes. We hope to see some of the extra cash flow from the sale helping the former tenants get back on their feet as needed. And then perhaps more funds can flow through those unrestricted general operating support grants that local groups have been needing so badly.

If you haven’t done so already, fill out an organizational profile form, which will be used by MCF Philanthropic Services staff to connect with donors. It’s downloadable from the community engagement page on the funder’s website and can be emailed into the staff to get your foot in the door with the foundation and local donors.