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Finances and Operations Weather Uncertain Times

By Paige Unangst
Finance Director

November 15, 2020

The generosity of our donors has continued to increase as our programs and work expand to meet the ever-changing needs of protecting, preserving, and stewarding the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area.

Consolidated results in fiscal year 2019-2020 show operating income at $2.48 million and operating expenses at $2.45 million. Our endowment disbursement was set at 4 percent and we had other disbursements from prior year board designated and restricted funds. In addition to operating income, we received two donated properties and an easement worth $215,500. We sold three preserves to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, one preserve to the U.S. Forest Service, and we purchased one privately owned property.

Although preserves owned by Friends of the Columbia Gorge Land Trust are eligible for property tax exemption, we paid $50,855 in property taxes to support local communities and schools.

Our $6.3 million endowments include the newly established Matthew Winthrop Fund for youth education, the Vic Clausen Fund for outdoor youth education, and the Marjorie Abramovitz Fund for land trust activities. Endowments for general operations include the Conservation Director Endowment, the Mary D. and Thomas W. Holman Fund, the Nancy Russell Institutional Fund, and the Barbara Pooley Wilson Fund.

Endowment funds are managed by Ferguson Wellman Capital Management and monitored by Friends’ board finance committee.

Friends receives $297K from Payroll Protection Plan

Following the COVID-19 shutdown, Friends’ revenues dropped precipitously and a loan from the Payroll Protection Program provided a buffer to prevent drastic cuts. Friends buckled down at the start of the coronavirus pandemic and pivoted to a new way of working and connecting with our members. Face-to-face contact was replaced with phone calls and Zoom webinars. Expenses were cut, including the executive director voluntarily taking a 20 percent pay cut for the months of May and June. And plans were considered for deeper budget cuts and reductions in programming and staff pay.

After extensive consultation with board leadership, we chose this spring not to institute staff cuts, as we had spent prudently over the previous nine months. Combined with other budget cuts, this savings would allow Friends to carry forward vital funds into our next fiscal year (starting July 2020). But April revenues showed the full impact of the shutdown as fundraising dropped 40 percent, which, projected over 12 months, would have resulted in a $750,000 drop in income. Action was needed to stave off potentially devastating staff cuts in coming months and Friends staff moved quickly to apply for the newly created federal Payroll Protection Plan. In early May 2020, Friends received a $297,200 loan from the Payroll Protection Fund in their second round of funding.

What Friends has done with our Payroll Protection funds

With the assurance of the Payroll Protection funds, staff were able to focus on the work of protecting, preserving, and stewarding the Columbia Gorge. This work has included:

  • Hosting Spring 2020 wildlife webinars (pikas, bees, and western pond turtles) that were viewed by more than 1,000 people;
  • Transferring a 175-acre property to U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which allowed a 900-acre salmon-restoration project to begin in the Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge this summer;
  • Advocating to the Columbia River Gorge Commission and U.S. Forest Service to include a Climate Resilience Plan in the revised Management Plan for the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area;
  • Launching a haiku challenge championed by Oregon’s 2019 poet laureate, Kim Stafford, that generated more than 230 haikus;
  • Reimagining our public and land trust land stewardship to accommodate social distancing and safety for our volunteers; and
  • Collaborating with federal and state entities, local nonprofits, and businesses to create the Columbia Gorge Stewardship Network.

In these uncertain times, Friends’ board, led by its Finance Committee, will work to ensure that the organization remains a wise steward of its funds as it continues working to protect, preserve and steward the Columbia Gorge.