Nonprofit Picks for 2009

Following is my first blog posting for 2009. Enjoy! To read more of Bobby’s Blog, please visit The Community Foundation website, and click on “Bobby’s Blog” on the top right-hand side. You will find all of my blog postings archived, as well as a link to the blog itself. I look forward to your comments and to Year 3 of blogging on giving and the “nonprofitable” world (thanks to Martin Lehfeldt for that new word).

Okay, I see now what is needed. As I peruse the prognostications of Barrons’ expert stock pickers for the winners of 2009 (almost all of whom performed miserably in 2008), I look back with greater satisfaction on the nonprofits I drew to your attention this time last year.

* The Healing Place has a remarkable record of helping homeless men recover from drug and alcohol abuse.
* Safe Harbor and the YWCA of Richmond ( provide shelter for abused women and their children.
* ChildSavers provides counseling for children who witness violence.
* The Greater Richmond ARC aids disabled children and their families.
* FeedMore (formerly Central Virginia Food Bank and Meals on Wheels) is ubiquitous in its fundraising prowess to fill food shelves that are emptying at an alarming rate due to the economic crisis.

These nonprofits continue to distinguish themselves, and they have all been challenged by the recession. So, since my nonprofit picks did better than the Barrons pros’ for-profit picks, let’s see if I can pull a repeat performance in 2009. For starters, all of the above remain a “strong buy.”

Value Pick: I am going to recommend Maymont because it is free, which means everyone can afford to visit. This gives Maymont an economically competitive advantage even over recession-proof box stores like Wal-Mart. Maymont is educational and great fun. The activity menu includes farm animals, an aquarium, an historic home, wild animals (including bears, an eagle and buffalo), varied gardens, dramatic trees and luscious lawns. While enjoying outdoor and indoor activities on a spacious campus, a visiting family can make a serious dent in the childhood obesity crisis. I would say that Maymont’s value proposition of health, education and entertainment at no cost makes this pick the consummate no-brainer.

Contrarian Pick: Richmond CenterStage will open in the late 2009 in the former Carpenter Theater (plus neighboring property). The project has been maligned for cost overruns and hampered by political roadblocks. Yet, farsighted donors have invested significantly and have been matched by the City of Richmond and the Commonwealth of Virginia. The arts organizations that will play CenterStage have all managed to survive the recession - the Richmond Symphony, the Virginia Opera, and the Richmond Ballet. The neighborhood surrounding CenterStage is much improved with the renovation of The National, the impending opening of Miller & Rhoads Hilton, and the completion of the Spottswood W. Robinson III and Robert R. Merhige Jr. United States Courthouse. While CenterStage remains a risky bet, with the adequacy of nearby parking a nagging concern, my prediction is that it will emerge as a gem that will breathe new life into the arts scene, which by the time it opens may be surviving on life support.

Growth Pick: The Community Foundation initiated the 2009 Safety Net Fund in November 2008 with a $1 million commitment of its reserves to augment grantmaking to “safety net” nonprofits for emergency grantmaking and other forms of assistance. The Foundation’s donors and friends responded to an email by giving an additional $800,000, and 100% of all funds will go to the nonprofits. In a recessionary environment, this response is remarkable; on the other hand, the region’s donors have a history of generosity that distinguishes Richmond from other similarly sized communities. My bet is that this region’s growth in giving will prove recession-proof in the aggregate, with increased support for human needs offsetting a smaller decline in support for arts and culture.

“Bobby, this last pick seems really self-serving,” you may say. Perhaps, but objectively I believe it; and subjectively the only way to keep this recession from turning into a depression is for me to keep my job.

Robert Thalhimer

Posted at 1:00 AM, Jan 22, 2009 in Philanthropic Strategy | Permalink | Comment

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