Philanthropy during a pandemic: Reno executives discuss giving back amid Thanksgiving season

Debby Herman is acutely aware of the profound impact a nonprofit can have on someone’s life. Which is why Herman, Northern Nevada region manager at Nevada State Bank, has been involved with the Reno Rodeo Foundation for the past 16 years, serving as a board officer for the past six.

The nonprofit funds scholarships and supports children with extraordinary needs in 14 Northern Nevada counties, capping each year with a “Denim Drive” to clothe neglected, abused and abandoned children from unsafe homes.

“I was actually one of those children when I was young,” Herman told the NNBW. “And so it’s always something that’s in the forefront of my mind. Because I know what it feels like to be a child in protective custody and not have any of your own things or clothes.”

Herman, the vice president of the Reno Rodeo Foundation board, is hopeful the nonprofit will continue to see the giving it relies on during the holiday season, despite the financial strain the pandemic has put on the business community.

“It’s more important than ever now to get these donations,” Herman said. “Because the need doesn’t change just because of COVID. In fact, it increases.”

Debby Herman

With that in mind, the NNBW spoke with business leaders who serve on boards of Reno-Sparks nonprofits to discuss what inspired them to give back, the importance of holiday donations, and what the outlook is for giving amid the COVID crisis.

Q: Why do you serve on a nonprofit board?

Herman: I thought I could do more versus just volunteering and helping. I could do more by really fundraising and getting our business community involved so that we can help these kids (through the Reno Rodeo Foundation).

Rob Gaedtke

Rob Gaedtke (KPS3 CEO), Children’s Cabinet chair: My mom was a social worker, so children and family means a lot to me. And the (Children’s Cabinet) mission is to keep children safe and families together. So their mission and my heart were very much in alignment.

Ben Kennedy (Dickinson Wright Reno member), Eddy House board: When you live in a community and making a living in a community that supports you, I feel like you sort of have an obligation to give back to that community. I think Eddy House is a pretty amazing organization. And it’s important because a lot of these kids are at a fork in the road in their life, and if we can intercept those kids at this point, and get them into our program, and get them thinking about a future that doesn’t involve homelessness, it really is a chance to get them on a path to being productive members of society.

Colleen Worlton (Intuit Reno site leader), Girl Scouts of the Sierra Nevada chair: I joined the Girl Scouts board because I wanted I wanted to be able to learn a little bit about ... what is it like to be a board member of a nonprofit. And I’m passionate about girls and their experience in the world, and I was really grateful for the opportunity.

Colleen Worlton

Jason Guinasso (Hutchison & Steffen partner), Awaken board: My desire to support people doing great things in the community. The issue of sex trafficking is certainly something I care about. My role is to support (Awaken) and be able to reach and serve all the people that they want to reach and serve.

Michael Dermody (CEO of Dermody Properties), Children’s Cabinet co-founder and board: I was inspired to found the organization due to what I saw in our community. In the early ‘80s I served on the board of the Boys and Girls Club in northern Nevada. I was inspired by the commitment of Jack Reviglio, chairman of the board. At that time, child abuse was very prevalent in northern Nevada and I wanted to establish a safe place for children that were impacted. I organized a high-level group of public officials and business leaders to address the needs of children in the community, but they advised that there should be a different type of organization to address the needs of all children and families to fill in the “gaps in service.” The Children’s Cabinet was the result.

Michael C. Dermody

Q: Why is it important for companies to donate to nonprofits, especially during the holiday season?

Herman: The needs of people through various nonprofits — and specific to the Reno Rodeo (Foundation) — are all year long. I think it’s important for business community to be involved and really help give back so that we can help these kids. I think it’s important that we get involved in the business community to help these nonprofits, because ultimately, it helps the people in our community.

Gaedtke: I think every corporation has a responsibility to support the community that they live and breathe in. If you’re an active member of the community, I think it’s everyone’s duty to find a way to give a little more than they take. And from a COVID perspective, some of the businesses that are getting hit hardest are the nonprofits. And so I think now more than ever, it’s just so critical to give as much as you can this holiday season.

Ben Kennedy

Kennedy: When the Eddy House gets donations, those donations go into our programming and enable us to serve our population and provide services that if we didn’t have the funding, we wouldn’t be able to do. It directly impacts these community and these kids we serve.

Worlton: As a company, having the privilege of working in a for-profit environment, we have an obligation to help in the communities that we live in. And I think that right now is probably one of the most important times in nonprofit history. We are seeing some nonprofits that aren’t making it right now because they can’t serve some of their members; they’re struggling to raise funds.

Jason Guinasso

Guinasso: During the holidays it’s particularly important because the needs of the clients that we serve are more acute during the holiday season. In this time of a global pandemic, groups like Awaken are not able to do their annual fundraising event for the year to fund a lot of their operations. And so I think it’s really important for the business community to show some initiative those organizations, either as generously or more as we would at any event.

Michael Russell (CEO of United Construction Company), immediate past chair of the Children’s Cabinet board of trustees: I believe it’s a duty for local companies to support community nonprofits like the Children’s Cabinet to help ease the substantial family needs in our community. There will be many families that won’t have a Thanksgiving or Christmas without help from non-profit organizations such as the Children’s Cabinet’s Adopt-A-Family or the Food Bank of Northern Nevada programs that provide for families in need in our community during the holiday season. The need for support is greater than ever, and we as a business community need to do our part to help. Families have lost jobs and income, children of school age are remote learning and childcare is very challenging due to COVID. All of those dynamics have created a huge need for non-profit support to serve the children and families in need in our community.

Q: How much do nonprofits rely on receiving donations this time of year?

Herman: Almost 100%. Especially given this year, all of our normal fundraising activities have ceased due to COVID. There are no in-person events; there are no galas; none of those things that we normally do.

Gaedtke: There’s a huge impact in the giving during the holiday season. Those are things like: How can you help a family provide a holiday for their kids? How can you help ensure that every family can celebrate together? Those are the types of things that really aren’t earmarked in a budget for a nonprofit. And so I think that’s why over the holidays, it’s even more important. So as those needs arise, you can hopefully dip into a budget that is freshly stocked with donations.

Michael Russell

Kennedy: For the Eddy House, in particular, with the change of season, we see our clientele increase and our level of services we need to provide increase. So I think, for us, it’s really important this time of year that we have the resources to serve that population — now more than ever, with COVID.

Worlton: Some of these nonprofits, right now is kind of their peak time. It depends on the nonprofit, but I think this is a time of year when we start talking and thinking about giving in our community. And I think it’s important to kind of look around and realize there are people all year long who need help.

Guinasso: I think people are just conditioned to want to give during this time, more so than other times of the year. And so nonprofits really set up their budget with that in mind.

Russell: Every year, nonprofits rely on the kindness of donors and sponsors, but especially during the holiday season. Food, clothing, gifts and other basic necessities are especially needed moving into winter.

Q: Because companies have been negatively impacted by the pandemic, do you think corporate giving in this region might go down this year?

Herman: I feel the community will still give back as they have. It may look a little bit different, or maybe a lesser amount. But our Northern Nevada communities have always supported, and I think that they’ll continue to find ways to do that because they know how important it is.

Gaedtke: I can speak for the Children’s Cabinet and I can say that we have not seen it dip. It did definitely in the beginning, but it’s sort of stabilized. And so I think it’s just really a shift in giving. Some companies are down, but others are up. And so I think that balance is really starting to come to fruition now.

Kennedy: The support that we get has been consistent. The Eddy House has had phenomenal support. I think that because some corporations have struggled, people have lost jobs and there are more people that need support.

Worlton: What I’m seeing is overall people wanting to be able to contribute, those that can. I do think the other thing that nonprofits are trying to do is find smaller ways that people can give — can you give $5? $10? I think everybody’s trying to find a way, whether they’re a company or an individual, to give back because we recognize that this is such a unique, difficult time.

Guinasso: A lot of corporate partners and businesses that have supported Awaken in the past really took the initiative to reach out to Awaken and say, hey, we know that this may be a difficult year what can we do to help? And there are just a lot of folks that did that, and as a result, we’re right on track with what we budgeted, both in revenue and expenses this year.

Dermody: In Reno, I believe we have a great core of leaders that give back. As a country, I know we give back more than any other country in the world. It’s really the American way to help those in need if you have the ability to and that’s pretty remarkable to be part of.


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