A new way to do Business

Nonprofit seeks private money for first time

Educational Opportunities for Children and Families was formed in 1967 to help fight then President Lyndon Johnson’s war on poverty.

Today, the nonprofit organization serves more than 2,000 low income families at 28 centers throughout Clark, Cowlitz and Pacific counties. Traditionally, the organization’s $9.6 million annual operating budget was in large part provided through grants and federal funding, but EOCF Executive Director Doug Lehrman says that’s changing.

EOCF provides families with health care, educational and mentoring resources such as youth sports, the Head Start and Early Childhood Educational and Assistance Programs, help in obtaining immunizations and transportation, as well as nutritional education. The organization employs 270 full-and part-time professionals ranging from teachers and interpreters to child care workers, nutritional aides, bus drivers and cooks.

More than 30 local organizations work as partners with EOCF, including First Independent Bank, Clark College, Washington State University Vancouver and the Woodland, Vancouver, Evergreen, Ocean Beach and Battle Ground school districts. These partners provide support in the form of services and use of facilities, but very few are involved financially.

Lehrman said federal money for programs such as Head Start has leveled off, remaining static for the past four years, and last year EOCF took a 1 percent funding cut. In comparison, private contributions to EOCF amount to a little less than $5,000 per year.

To address these realities, Lehrman is steering the organization for the first time into the private fundraising arena.

"One of the biggest challenges for nonprofits is survival in this era of reduced government funding," Lehrman said. "We need to expand beyond the subsidized programs and get into the private sector. We have never gone to the community for financial support, but looking ahead three to five years, that’s how we want to grow. It’s time to tap new resources of philanthropic support."

To get into the business of soliciting charitable donations, EOCF will hold its first ever fundraising auction Nov. 4 at the Parker House Restaurant in Washougal. Lehrman hopes to raise $50,000 through the event. He plans to auction items like weekend getaways to the beach and cases of Washington wines at the event.

Lehrman’s vision for the future of EOCF includes not only private funding, but private programs. He said he plans to develop new projects with schools, businesses and day care providers with hopes of evolving out of the federally mandated programs from which it began and into an operating structure supported mainly by the community at large.

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