Evaporating foundations: Las Vegas nonprofits spot problems on the horizon

Denise Truscello/WireImage/DeniseTruscello.net

Nevada Ballet Theatre’s 40th anniversary performance and premiere in Reynolds Hall at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday, May 5, 2012.

The names Reynolds and Lied pop up in most aspects of Las Vegas civic life.

There’s the Lied Library and Lied Athletic Complex at UNLV and the Lied Animal Foundation. There’s the Nevada Ballet Theatre’s Donald W. Reynolds Cultural Center, the Donald W. Reynolds Girl Scout and Boy Scout centers and the KNPR Donald W. Reynolds Broadcast Center.

And of course, the Lied Discovery Children’s Museum that will reopen later this year in Symphony Park as the Donald W. Reynolds Discovery Center.

Soon enough, however, those names won’t be plastered on new buildings.

The namesake foundations behind the plaques are preparing to shut down in the coming years, eliminating a key source of funding for local nonprofit groups.

Their pending closures won’t end philanthropy in Las Vegas. Other foundations still are active and there are efforts to get more wealthy locals to write checks to charities.

But it will make fundraising more difficult. The valley has a relatively small number of large foundations for its size, and at least one nonprofit already is having trouble securing replacement funding.

Moreover, the Lied and Reynolds foundations are winding down on the heels of another big hit to the nonprofit community. The Lincy Foundation, a large source of local giving, announced last year it was ending operations and transferring its assets to a new fund at the UCLA Foundation.

“There is a great concern by all of us to see three of our major foundations closing,” said Julie Murray, CEO of Moonridge Group, a Las Vegas consulting firm that works with foundations.

The wind down is in full swing. While the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation — named for the media tycoon who died in 1993 — spent nearly $170 million on nationwide grants last year, up from $152 million in 2010 and $120 million in 2009, it is cutting back on new funding commitments. The foundation authorized only $49 million in new grants last year, down from $116 million in 2010 and $230 million in 2009.

Meanwhile, the Lied Foundation Trust made about $5 million in contributions, gifts and grants in 2010. That’s down from $11 million in 2009 and $17 million in 2008.

The Lied Foundation is named for the late real estate investor Ernst Lied.

The Reynolds Foundation will cease operations by 2022 at the latest. That’s the date its board of trustees’ mandated for closure.

But “it could be earlier than that,” foundation President Steve Anderson said.

Anderson said the foundation was not designed to run indefinitely and now is in “spend-down mode.” That could spell trouble for local charities.

The foundation has had a profound impact on the valley. It gave the downtown Smith Center for the Performing Arts $117 million in grants and donated tens of millions of dollars to help other local nonprofits build facilities. Those include Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Las Vegas and the Assistance League of Las Vegas.

Anderson said the foundation’s staff has encouraged nonprofits to look for new sources of funding.

“We want them to broaden their base of support,” he said.

Local nonprofit leaders confirmed that the Lied Foundation is winding down as well, but no one could say when exactly it will stop providing grants. Trustee and foundation leader Christina Hixson did not return calls for comment.

That foundation also has been instrumental in helping local nonprofits. In 2010, for example, it gave $205,000 to the Las Vegas Rescue Mission for renovation work; $100,000 to the Animal Foundation to resurface shelter floors, and $100,000 for operations at the Lied Discovery Children’s Museum.

In addition, the foundation gave $1.5 million to the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada to build new headquarters and an adjacent parking garage. The building is scheduled to open in January and the garage in June, Executive Director Barbara Buckley said.

That isn’t to say other foundations aren’t active in Las Vegas. The Engelstad Family Foundation, for instance, doled out $18 million nationally in contributions, gifts and grants in 2010.

Together, the Reynolds, Lied and Engelstad foundations are the key financiers for local nonprofit groups’ construction projects. The closure of two of them will be “an incredible loss for the community,” Buckley said.

For a city of its size and influence, Las Vegas has a surprisingly small number of large foundations. With a population of about 2 million, the valley has only 11 foundations with at least $20 million in assets.

By comparison, Reno (pop. 228,000) has 13 foundations worth $20 million or more, Salt Lake City (pop. 190,000) has 18 and San Francisco (pop. 813,000) has 17.

Some nonprofit leaders attribute the shortage to Las Vegas’ relative young age — it was founded in 1905 — and point out that much of the city’s wealth is new, created only in the past few decades. Others cite the recession, which gutted many wealthy Las Vegans’ fortunes and wiped out the dollars needed for high-impact philanthropy.

Murray said that when some people move to Las Vegas, they treat the city like a “rental car community.” They test it to see if they like it. As a result, they don’t give time or money to local causes “until they know they’re planting roots,” she said.

Efforts are under way to change that. Motivated in part by the pending closures of the Lied and Reynolds foundations, Murray helped organize a council of 30 smaller family foundations that meets every other month to discuss how to encourage local residents to donate more to charity.

In the meantime, local nonprofits that receive funding from Lied and Reynolds are looking for new sources of cash. Some groups plan to send more direct mail to solicit donations. Others will hold new events. They hope to get a large number of small- to medium-sized gifts to replace the smaller number of large donations they used to get from Lied and Reynolds, Murray said.

One group that received funding from both foundations is the Nevada Ballet Theatre. Reynolds financed the construction of the group’s rehearsal studios and administrative offices in Summerlin, while Lied financed its “Future Dance” youth program and was one of the largest regular donors to the group, CEO and Executive Director Beth Barbre said.

The ballet company’s final round of funding from Lied came last year. Barbre said staff is now targeting other foundations for help. While the theater has received small grants to fund Future Dance, nothing yet compares to Lied’s donations.

Barbre said she’s bracing and trying to plan ahead for “that inevitable day” when the Lied and Reynolds foundations no longer exist.

“It’s a big loss to local nonprofits,” she said.

— Doug Twyman contributed to this report.



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  1. Boo, hoo! What's the big deal? Those who want these organizations should be more than willing to support them financially. If not, let them die just like any other business. It's not the taxpayers job to support them - or, at least, shouldn't be. We don't support movie theaters that screen Hollywood trash, do we? Enough already with subsidizing winners & losers. Let the free market decide who succeeds and who fails.

  2. Though this comment is not going to be well accepted by the liberal Obamites here on the Sun comment pages, but is not 'the middle class' that establishes foundations, is the movers and shakers with the $$$$. You want more taxes on the people that make these donations, and then want money to keep flowing from them to support the arts and other non-profit institutions. Well, you cannot have it both ways. You want them to give money, then quit attempting to take money from them. The additional funds that are taken in taxes, takes on toll on what is available for philanthropic ventures. So keep the socialist programs running, and watch the donations continue to dry up. Adleson give millions away to Reid and his cronies, but rarely gives even a small pittance to this town. Let the people who can make the money continue to make it, and they will donate. If not, what 'lvfacts101' says is very appropriate, let the middle class (the free market) fund it........(FAT CHANCE)....