Laura Piening
Executive Director, SCV Resource Center

Interview by Leon Worden
Signal Multimedia Editor

Sunday, July 31, 2005
(Television interview conducted June 15, 2005)

Laura Piening     "Newsmaker of the Week" is presented by the SCV Press Club and Comcast, and hosted by Signal Multimedia Editor Leon Worden. The program premieres every Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on SCVTV Channel 20, repeating Sundays at 8:30 a.m.
    This week's newsmaker is Laura Piening, executive director of the SCV Resource Center. Questions are paraphrased and some answers may be abbreviated for length.

Signal: How long has the SCV Resource Center been around and what does it do?

Piening: The Santa Clarita Valley Resource Center was started in 1997. A group of nonprofit executives got together with the city of Santa Clarita and (The) Newhall Land (and Farming Co.) and the advisory cabinet of United Way and talked about what they needed in the community. So they decided they needed a meeting room and they needed to have classes locally, so these people kept going forward and they created a nonprofit. That was 1998, we got our corporation, in 1999 we became an independent IRS 501(c)(3) organization, and have been going ever since.

Signal: What do you help nonprofits do?

Piening: I want to say anything they want, but that's not true. The term in the industry is that we help nonprofits build their capacity to perform their services, whatever their services might be.
    Basically we offer training, consulting, mentoring, networking opportunities, leadership development, volunteer development. In Santa Clarita it's really a wonderful opportunity to help individual agencies, as well as all the nonprofits together. We have monthly workshops, and I can even find out what they need so we can tailor it to their requirements.

Signal: How do you help nonprofits find grants?

Piening: Well, we don't actually find the grants for them; we have the resources they can use to find their own grants. That was a big thing the original nonprofits were looking for, also — grant opportunities.
    The city of Santa Clarita donates their offices to us in the Activities Center here in Santa Clarita. We have a desk called the "research desk," and it has a computer and Internet access and we have something called the Foundation Center's CD-ROM, and basically there are tens of thousands of foundations on that CD-ROM and you can put in your perimeters. (Say you're) an arts organization who wants to get a grant for children in the schools, and you put in all your perimeters and they come up with all the kinds of the foundations that will fund that. So you write it down and we give you some idea of how to approach them and you go for it.

Signal: Why can't nonprofits do this on their own?

Piening: Anyone can do anything on their own. It just helps to have one place that has all of the resources. The disk itself costs $1,200. So why would everyone spend $1,200? Then we have a wall of books that cost another — $600 to 700 worth of materials. We all need help.

Signal: What were you saying about these organizations needing a meeting room?

Piening: Oh, I talk too fast. That's from being from New York. They were part of the group that came together and said: OK, local nonprofits of Santa Clarita, what do you need? And they did a needs assessment, and the needs assessment came back saying that the nonprofits would find it hard to find meeting rooms for their business meetings, for their board meetings, for their volunteer trainings — and they were tired of going downtown for any training that they needed; and they want a grant research room here, also.
    The same materials here are (in) downtown (Los Angeles) also, at the Center for Nonprofit Management; they were looking for something local.

Signal: How unique is the SCV Resource Center? Is there something like it in most communities?

Piening: There are pieces of this in most other communities. I like to call this a unique jewel in the Santa Clarita Valley. Because it is kind of cool. The community has done a wonderful job. It's very clever. In Los Angeles County you have the Center for Nonprofit Management, and they do the same thing we do as a nonprofit management assistance program. They offer trainings and research, and they have the Foundation Center materials down there. So you could do everything you want in downtown Los Angeles.
    There's one in Orange County and Ventura County; most counties in California have a nonprofit management assistance program, and many counties have a volunteer center (affiliated with) the Point of Lights Foundation. There's a volunteer center of Los Angeles and Orange County, and many areas have a community foundation.
    We do a little bit of that work; unfortunately we don't have a couple of million dollars in the bank, but we can work on that. But we teach them how to build philanthropy and get more donors. So you've taken all of those and put them inside this geographic area and said, OK, we're going to put that all together in this one organization — and I don't know of anyone who has done that. When we go for our grants, we call it a great model for small communities.

Signal: How is the Resource Center funded, and do nonprofits have to pay to take advantage of your services?

Piening: Were funded privately, basically. We get grants and we get donations from the community; most of our funding comes from the community.
    As I said, the city donates the offices. But for everything we else, we do what everybody else does. We have a special event, Make a Difference Day, in October, and we sell sponsorships, so we do it pretty much the way everyone else does.
    We do our best to keep the costs (down) to the nonprofits — "low to no" (cost) is our expression. The workshops are $20 for a half-day, $40 for a full day, and yes, they do pay for that. We have some consulting and some strategic planning facilitation that we do, and that (price is) based on their budget. If their budget is small, it's zero; its that "low to no" thing again.
    We have something else called the Nonprofit Leaders Council, and they do pay a small fee to be a member of that. But if you're a start-up nonprofit and need help, that's our job. It doesn't cost you a thing.

Signal: We're a growing valley, so there are more and more businesses that can conceivably give more and more money to nonprofits — but don't you find that our nonprofits tend to compete for the same dollars within the community?

Piening: Yes, I do find that we all tend to — it's a small community and it's growing and it's stretching, but it hasn't really reached out to everyone that it could.
    I believe, in my opinion, that we could fund every nonprofit in this community completely, if we were effective in reaching everyone. Because it's a wealthy community, and you're right: We are really hitting the same people over and over.
    So that's one of our primary purposes as the Resource Center, right now, is what we all call, "break the donor ceiling." Get past the same people who are donating. So we are all working at it. We talk about it a lot, so part of the Nonprofit Leaders Council's purpose is to get the information out to the rest of community, about how they can get involved and how they practice philanthropy, how they can be volunteers. So yes, there is a problem with that.

Signal: Do you feel that the Resource Center has been able to tap previously untapped sources and bring money out of the woodwork that wasn't otherwise going into the nonprofit sector?

Piening: I would say yes, we have done that, to a degree. We have got good nonprofits, so it's sort of like we all work as a team, and it's been happening.
    Another thing we want to do with the Nonprofit Leaders Council is, we want to get the data on how much money we bring in. Nonprofits probably bring in millions and millions of dollars into the community from their contracts with state and federal government, from their foundations, from donors outside of Santa Clarita.
    I see us making headway into new donors; we have been very instrumental in bringing (in) private foundations that give grants ... to do what we call "Meet the Grantmaker" sessions. People have gotten more grants because of that.
    In fact were very proud to get a grant from the S. Mark Taper Foundation. They funded up here one time to someone they knew before, so we are the first stranger from Santa Clarita that they have ever funded. They actually called up and they were so impressed with the Resource Center because — she called up and she said, "OK, you serve 114 nonprofits, but how many people does that reach?" So we went to our database and added it up and it came up to hundreds and thousands of people (who) are benefited by what we do. So they told us that they (were) going to give (us) a grant and they did.

Signal: There are some "major" nonprofits in this valley that come immediately to mind, like the SCV Boys and Girls Club and the Michael Hoefflin Foundation and Carousel Ranch and the hospital foundation. They put on big functions, and it's trendy to be seen at them. But what about the little nonprofits that aren't well known? What do you do for them?

Piening: I talk a lot about the others. We have a publication called "The Guide." It's a red booklet that has 94 agencies in it. We publish it in April, and it has been found around the community, and our goal is to have everyone take a look at it and see the new agencies.
    But more specifically than that, I talk. I know it sounds simple, but we talk about people. I teach them how to contact The Signal and Channel 20 and how to get that word out. I know we have done really well with ... several of the others...
    I know it looks like there's only a few, but if you think about it, you also know a lot about the Special Olympics now; they've done a great job. Single Mothers Outreach gets their name out there; the Food Pantry's doing fine; we know the homeless shelter is out there a lot. I think we need to talk about — there are the ones that are there because their events are big and prominent, and there are other agencies coming out.

Signal: Why do we need a healthy nonprofit sector? We formed the city of Santa Clarita in 1987. Can't the city just take care of all of these special-needs groups?

Piening: I don't think so. I mean ... no, the city can't do it.
    Actually I asked this question — COC has a leadership program and we gave a speech to the young people who were being trained to be leaders in the community. One of the young men said: You know, we need a nonprofit sector so we don't become a socialist state. And I said, well, I haven't heard that kind of reasoning in a long time. So there's lots of reasons even for that. It keeps us independent — but the truth of the matter is, a nonprofit can find a need, get an IRS determination, form the corporation and get it solved in a year or so.
    The city is a bureaucracy; it's a wonderful thing; it's an excellent city; there's nothing against it. But if you want to solve problems and get needs met, you need to be lean and mean and going for it. You don't need to go get approved for everything. That's the first thing you don't need. Peter Drucker said the nonprofit sector is the sector of the 21st Century, and I'm just so excited to be a part of it. I do believe we can make changes that are really positive.

Signal: A lot of needy people don't know how to be lean and mean and go for it. Does the Resource Center help people with the voluminous paperwork it takes to form a nonprofit?

Piening: Sure. We don't give legal advice, but I have a handout that tells you what's involved. There's a very simple book. You do have to have the $40 to buy the book, but if you have the book, it gives you the disks.
    It's a fantastic book, "How to form a nonprofit in California" by Anthony Mancuso published by Nolo Press. We can talk to them and then we put them together with their peers, and maybe they don't have to start a whole organization. Maybe it's enough to become a program of another nonprofit.
    So that's a real powerful part of our being — nonprofit leaders coming together. Because we can do it that way. And you're right — I suppose if you're really poor (and) you have no education, this is very hard to do. But in this community you can really get advocates who know how to make things happen.
    I mean, look at the Placerita Canyon Nature Center Foundation. They were going to get closed down, and they said no. That's what America is. And then they got together and they came into the Resource Center and Judy McClure was there and she took the grant classes and did the research and it empowered them. It empowered them so much now that the county has put them back in.

Signal: On the flip side, with so many nonprofits out there, how would somebody select one to help?

Piening: Well, they follow their hearts. We have "The Guide"; they can call our offices and get a copy of it; they can download it from our Web site, which is They can look through it and find an agency ... that touches their heart, something they would like to get involved with.
    My experience is that people really want to make a difference. They want to leave a legacy. They want to be involved. Even when they're busy, in their heart they want to be — and that's our job, and its everyone's job, who wants to build the community.
    (Former City Manager) George Caravalho was one of the founders of the Resource Center. He introduced me into something called building community assets, and basically that's when every person takes their passion and their talent and they bring it into being part of the community. That's what will make a world that works for everyone.

Signal: Every once in awhile we'll hear of a nonprofit telephone scam, usually involving a bogus police officer organization. Can people call the Resource Center and find out whether a nonprofit organization is legitimate?

Piening: You can call and see if we have worked with them. "Legitimate" has a big wide range to it. I'm sorry for those — nonprofits that do that give the rest of us a black eye.
    You can go to a Web site (and) check their nonprofit status. ... There are ways to check whether they are in good standing. But yes, they can call us; if they are in our guide, you know that they are approved by the IRS and that I wouldn't put anything in there that I hadn't heard anything about.

Signal: What's the Resource Center phone number?

Piening: 250-3720.

Signal: Many businesses have an annual budget for charitable giving, for a tax write-off. Do you help businesses identify a nonprofit to fund?

Piening: Absolutely, we have gotten calls before. ... Often they like something that fits their work area, their field of service. Something that's complimentary. (For instance) a pharmaceutical company (might) like the Michael Hoefflin Foundation, if they do cancer drugs. So yes, we make those connections for them when they call us.
    We have had quite a few businesses call with donations, computers and office furniture. We get that through our e-mail blast.

Signal: Any final words?

Piening: I'd like people to know that they can really make a difference. Sometimes its hard to get settled into the right volunteer opportunity, but you should pursue what you're interested in, because the reward is just immeasurable. Carolyn Murray says that being of service is a spiritual act that changes your entire life, and I agree with that.

    See this interview in its entirety today at 8:30 a.m., and watch for another "Newsmaker of the Week" on Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on SCVTV Channel 20, available to Comcast and Time Warner Cable subscribers throughout the Santa Clarita Valley.

©2005 SCVTV.
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