Giving Tuesday is coming up on November 29 and it represents one of the most important days in the year for us to raise funds from donors like you. If you follow us closely and see some of our various grant announcements, you might wonder whether your individual gift will really make an impact in our work. The short answer is, “Yes! Your gift is incredibly important!” But we know many of you want more than the short answer and so we want to offer a deeper dive on the importance of your donation.

A great deal of the work we do at Alchemist CDC is funded by grants of thousands or tens of thousands of dollars. These grants come to us almost entirely as “Restricted Funds”, meaning the money they provide must be used for highly specific uses. Usually, this means the money must be spent on the operations of a specific program or to purchase specific equipment for a program. Restricted Funds from grants are essential for keeping our many programs running, but they are not enough on their own. We also need “Unrestricted Funds”.

Unrestricted Funds are exactly what they sound like—dollars that Alchemist can use with more flexibility on needs that are unfunded or insufficiently funded. These flexible dollars come to us primarily from individual donors, program revenue, and fundraiser events. You might be wondering how we spend Unrestricted Funds and why we need them. Take a look at this list with some samples:

1.       Running our programs: As mentioned already, our programs like CalFresh access at Farmers’ Markets or the Alchemist Kitchen food entrepreneurship program are primarily funded by program-specific grants, but they are not entirely funded by these grants. Your donation helps us to fill in the gaps so that we don’t have to make hard choices and cut back on this highly-effective work.

2.       Office Rent and General Supplies: This is one of the categories that some experts suggest non-profits avoid talking about. The thinking goes: who wants their donation to help pay rent on an office or to buy reams of paper? We get that, but we also know our donors are mature adults who actually do grasp how important these things are. We try to keep our overhead low, but we actually do need to provide our staff with the space to perform essential work, to safely store the equipment needed to run our programs, and the supplies to handle the ordinary day-to-day business that underpins every exciting thing we do.

3.       Grant Writing and Fundraising: We’ve already noted that grants play a big role in supporting our programs. What we didn’t note is that obtaining grants requires skilled labor and time, and applying for grants isn’t paid for by grants. This holds true for other forms of fundraising like hosting fundraiser events and even writing something like this. The impact of unrestricted funds is amplified as they allow us to spend hundreds of dollars to raise tens of thousands of dollars.

4.       Advocacy: Whether we are participating in meetings and task-forces that help shape bigger outcomes or adding our voice to a coalition calling for a change, we have a role to play in ensuring that the bigger systems at work in the region help every neighborhood to be healthy, vibrant, equitable, and diverse. Unrestricted funds allow us to take the time to have a seat at the table to advocate for our communities.

5.       Networking: Although it is a small portion of our total work, it is important for us to remain connected to other non-profits, local governments, businesses, community organizations, etc. So much of the good work that happens in the Sacramento region starts out with conversations among different groups as information is shared, introductions are made, resources are offered, and partnerships are formed. Our ability to contribute meaningfully through our programs and toward the work being done by other organizations depends on the ability to cultivate and grow this web of relationships. Your funding gives us the breathing room to make this possible.

6.       Social media and communications: We strongly believe that we have a responsibility to keep the community informed of our work and to offer as much relevant transparency as we can. More fundamentally, a lot of the work we do depends on effectively communicating with all of you. Grants don’t fund this essential part of the work, but you do.

7.       Policy: If you have been following our communications at all, you know that we co-sponsored and spearheaded state legislation this year. We had a good idea to have reliable public funding for high-quality CalFresh access at every certified farmers’ market. That good idea became a bill. That bill became a law. And now we are working to ensure that law is funded and implemented. Every step in that process required an incredible amount of work from us, but once SB 907/Local Equitable Access to Food is up and running, it will provide stability and ensure that our CalFresh program is here to make farmers’ markets affordable and accessible. More than that, it will do this for every farmers’ market in the state, making a huge difference for low-income Californians and for California’s small farms and producers. This policy work cannot be funded with grant money, and the gifts from donors like you are being multiplied so many times over through this investment of our time and energy.

8.       The work that surrounds new equipment: Narrowing our focus back into the nitty-gritty of the organization, grants are very useful in funding the purchase of necessary equipment, such as a new refrigerator for our commercial incubator kitchen. Those grants do not cover the time spent finding the best equipment for the best price, receiving or picking up the equipment, installing the equipment, etc. A single item purchased can require hours of labor just to become operational and your donations make that possible. If you find yourself doubting the importance of this bullet point, just think back to whatever printer, cabinet, or flat-pack bookshelf you once had that sat unopened in your home for months waiting for someone to set it up.

9.       Repairing and Maintaining Equipment: As long as we are thinking about equipment, we should note that most of it eventually requires repair and maintenance. Those may (or may not!) be small expenses, but the money has to come from somewhere and grants won’t cover it. A stitch in time saves nine, and a few dollars from donors like you can save hundreds or thousands of dollars in expense by allowing us to take good care of the tools we need to serve the community.

10.   New projects: Every impactful program we have was once just a concept. While there are some, few, grants that will help establish a new pilot project (and we are grateful for them!), grant funding can’t cover the work that comes first. The idea, the brainstorming, the refinement, the research, the planning and design, the budget estimation, the socializing of the concept… all of this work is essential. We would not have Alchemist Kitchen, CalFresh at Farmers’ Markets, or Neighborhood Empowerment programs if this work hadn’t been done. Alchemist Public Market would have had no future without this work. Your financial support creates the space for important new projects to be created and for our work to expand in new directions.

If you’ve stuck with us through all of this, we hope you are coming away with a better understanding of just how important your individual financial support is to the work we do to connect communities to land, food, and opportunity. We would be honored to have your financial support on this Giving Tuesday, whether you make a one-time donation or are able to help us reach our goal of 30 new recurring monthly donors. We promise that we will put your gift to good use.