In the heart of El Cajon, easily undetectable to the naked eye, lies a little slice of paradise and a great resource for those wanting to know more about San Diego County’s efforts in water efficiency.
The Water Conservation Garden is a six-acre outdoor space and educational exhibit that showcases water efficiency through a series of beautiful and immersive themed gardens, such as a native plant garden and a vegetable garden, as well as how-to displays on mulching and irrigation techniques.
In addition to the stunning scenery, admission is free to the Garden, which is why considerable time and energy was invested in crafting a strategic financial plan, with a specific focus on opening, building and growing their agency endowment fund at The San Diego Foundation.
Today, The San Diego Foundation helps The Water Conservation Garden build enduring assets and a stable revenue stream to ensure the organization continues to generate lasting impact in our region.
To learn more about this process and how it has helped the Garden, I recently sat down with Elyssa Robertson, Executive Director of The Water Conservation Garden for a discussion about organization sustainability.
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Interview with The Water Conservation Garden Executive Director Elyssa Robertson
Candace Wo: Why did you decide to establish an agency fund?
Elizabeth Robertson: Approximately 50 percent of our funding is from a Joint Powers Authority comprised of Otay Water District, Helix Water District, Sweetwater Authority, City of San Diego and the San Diego County Water Authority. These agencies have requested to reduce their funding of the Garden requiring us to seek out replacement funds. This has been a large burden on our staff. Our budget is approximately $1,000,000, of which the agencies pay $484,000. Thus, we needed to establish the endowment for greater financial stability.
CW: Why did you decide to setup a fund with The San Diego Foundation?
ER: The endowment is an important part of the Garden funding not only for consistency in finances but also for its ability for growth over time. Payments from the endowment are used for continued upgrades and maintenance of this almost 20-year-old facility.
CW: What was your process for determining whether to establish an endowment/agency fund?
ER: The Garden has always wanted to set up an endowment fund. Our biggest hurdle was finding a donor to give enough funds to start the initial account. Endowment funding for the Garden is critical to the success of the Garden, yet we never had sufficient excess funds to initiate the account. Now that one of our incredibly generous donors gifted us with the capital, we can actively promote the endowment to those who can give smaller amounts.
[pullquote]Endowment funding for the Garden is critical to the success of the Garden.[/pullquote]
CW: Why is sustainability and organization longevity important to your work?
ER: At a garden, maintenance is never ‘complete’. Plants mature and die, exhibits age and need updating. It is important to keep the Garden vital to today’s needs since water conservation is becoming more and more a way of life rather than a reaction to drought conditions.
CW: How does sustainability help staff and programs?
ER: In previous years, the majority of our budget was paid by government agencies (Water Districts). However, with the ever-changing political component of the Water District Boards, funding is always variable. It is difficult to maintain consistent programming and staffing needs when an organization’s budget potentially shifts annually.
CW: Do your donors see value in your organization holding an endowment fund?
ER: Yes! One of the greatest advantages to an endowment is that our donors can be assured that their gift will continue to support the Garden forever.
Are you interested in learning about agency funds?
About Candace Wo
As Mitigation and Nonprofit Funds Manager, Candace provides oversight, strategic direction and growth opportunities for mitigation and agency funds. She develops complex financial models and provides detailed proposals and recommendations that will produce revenue in perpetuity. Candace serves as the primary liaison to governmental agencies, project proponents and nonprofits in the greater San Diego region to realize their philanthropic needs.