With the loss of Vermont Yankee's charitable donations, organizations seek new ways to raise funds

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With the loss of Vermont Yankee's charitable donations, organizations seek new ways to raise funds

Thu, 12/03/2015 - 11:11am -- tim

by Mike Faher/The Commons In some ways, it’s easy to measure the losses caused by Vermont Yankee’s December 2014 shutdown: There are hundreds of fewer jobs in Windham County, and the nuclear plant’s tax payments already have dwindled, with more reductions to come. But nonprofit organizations around Windham County are making new calculations as administrators try to figure out how to replace the firm’s charitable giving and its employees’ reliable volunteerism. Nearly all of the company’s annual donations have ended, and far fewer plant staffers remain to give their time in the community. The impacts are many and varied.

Youth Services is missing the corporate financial help with its Big Brothers Big Sisters program.

Harris Hill Ski Jump organizers are coping with the absence of a longtime sponsor.

Rescue Inc. has lost an important contributor to its ever-more-costly ambulance purchases.

“We’re going to have to find some other donors, but we’re one of many nonprofits in the area that is out looking for alternative funding,” Drew Hazelton, Rescue Inc.’s operations chief, said as the emergency medical services agency he leads prepares to kick off both a capital and annual campaign.

“There’s a limited amount of funding out there,” Hazelton added.

An Immediate Effect

At Vermont Yankee, nuclear decommissioning will be measured in decades and in the hundreds of millions of dollars. But the loss of Yankee’s smaller charitable contributions — $175,000 in donations in 2014 — was felt almost immediately.

“That money did stop flowing after calendar year 2014,” plant spokesman Marty Cohn said.

There are exceptions. Vermont Yankee owner Entergy gave $350,000 earlier this year as a parting gift to Monadnock Economic Development Corp. in southwestern New Hampshire.

And Cohn said some leftover money was used for a three-year, step-down grant program for Brattleboro’s Groundworks Collaborative, which offers critical programs, including local shelters and a busy food shelf.

Groundworks is getting $20,000 from Entergy this year, $15,000 next year, and $10,000 in 2017. After that, the program ends.

Entergy had been giving $30,000 annually to the Brattleboro Area Drop In Center, which was merged into the newly created Groundworks this year.

“As an agency, it will be difficult to replace the large annual donation from Entergy, which they have been making for over 20 years,” Davis said.

That’s the dilemma many nonprofit directors are facing.

The plant was a “good friend” of Harris Hill Ski Jump for almost 30 years, said Patricia Howell, the organization’s president, with $20,000 to the ski jump’s 2007 capital campaign, and annual support ranging from $3,000 to $5,000. The 2016 jump will be the first without sponsorship.

“While we had plenty of notice that their support would be ending, to date we have not been able to find a replacement sponsor at their level of support,” Howell said.

Across town at the United Way of Windham County, administrators are in the midst of their second campaign without Entergy’s big contributions, Executive Director Carmen Derby said.

VY had matched its employees’ contributions, Derby said, and the company’s average campaign contribution had been more than $60,000 — no small loss for an organization with a roughly $500,000 annual budget. For the first United Way campaign without Entergy, administrators chose to use some reserve funding to alleviate the impact, Derby said.

Now, the organization is trying to better educate local residents about its many programs, such as free tax preparation, a free dental care day, and an online volunteer center. The United Way will also spearhead a program to replace the Reformer Christmas Stocking.

Brattleboro-based Youth Services also is continuing its work, but without the typical VY annual $10,000 donation. Executive Director Russell Bradbury-Carlin understands the impact of losing such a big donor — especially since corporate donations often offer nonprofits more flexibility than grants and foundation funding do — but he and his staffers are trying to take it in stride.

“For us, I know it was a significant piece of our corporate sponsorship — a little less than a third,” Bradbury-Carlin said. “But with any nonprofit and fundraising, you juggle five balls at once. You have to be flexible, and you have to kind of anticipate shifts in funding.”

Harris Hill ski jump photo by Jason R Henske

Fewer Volunteers

It’s not just the lost funding that troubles local nonprofit leaders. They’re also seeing fewer volunteers, since Vermont Yankee employees had often fanned out into the community to assist with charitable causes.

“They would put together a big team every year for our Bowl for Kids’ Sake, our fundraiser for Big Brothers Big Sisters,” Bradbury-Carlin said.

Davis has similar concerns at Groundworks, where “tremendous support from [Vermont Yankee] employees” will be missed.

At Brattleboro Memorial Hospital, where it’s estimated that Vermont Yankee gave about $10,000 annually, staff also will be missing Entergy employees.

“In addition to the financial contributions that VY made, they were always great at mobilizing their staff for the hospital as volunteer staff at events,” said Gina Pattison, the hospital’s development and marketing director. “They also did in-kind donations.”

That’s not to say, of course, that all volunteerism has ended at Vermont Yankee, where about 300 employees remain. Nor has all charitable fundraising stopped, though it’s happening on a smaller scale these days.

“Our employees have the opportunity to have money taken out of their paycheck, and then Entergy sends it to the charity of their choosing,” Cohn said. “That’s been continuing.”

The transitioning of some portions of the Vermont Yankee plant to “cold and dark” status has had ancillary benefits for area nonprofits, Cohn said. Office furniture has been donated to organizations such as St. Michael’s School and Windham County Sheriff’s Office, and extra cots were sent to Brattleboro’s overflow shelter.

Also, discount sales of Vermont Yankee’s surplus tables and chairs have raised money for Project Feed the Thousands and Westminster-based Southeastern Vermont Community Action (SEVCA).

“We hadn’t received direct donations from Entergy until last winter, when they gave us a donation for our Share the Warmth fund for emergency fuel assistance and encouraged their employees to make their own donations to the same cause,” SEVCA Executive Director Steve Geller said. Remaining employees will continue raising money for the cause.

But administrators like Geller know those donations are short-term. So they’re resolving to work harder while also hoping other potential donors take note of the void left by Vermont Yankee.

“It might encourage other companies to maybe give a little bit more,” Bradbury-Carlin said. “In general, in this community, people are really open to that and generous. That’s been my experience.”