California Local Publisher Michael Gelbman talks about his vision for the site’s future. jurgal Shutterstock.com
It’s always been my belief, ever since I started in the newspaper business, that in order to succeed you have to be integrated into the communities you serve. You have to build partnerships with the community, whether it be through business groups, service organizations or nonprofits in general. And one of the best ways to do that is by giving a voice to the people who are working to make the communities better.
We all know about the nonprofits and community groups that we care about as individuals, whether that be an animal rescue organization or the food bank. But we rarely stop and think about just how many organizations are out there. And many of them don’t have the resources to get their stories out. So pretty much everywhere I've worked, I’ve said, “This is an area I want to focus on.”
This idea culminated when I was working as the publisher of two newspapers in Lake Tahoe. In a conversation with Stacy Caldwell, CEO of the Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation, I told her that I wanted my newspapers to be a forum for nonprofits to tell their stories. Stacy‘s organization supports the work of more than 45 nonprofits. To make a long story short, within a few months we had created Give Back Tahoe.
We hoped to bring 30 nonprofits together, create a website where we could tell their stories, sell some sponsorships, and invite people to contribute—we set a goal of raising $30,000. That first year, 60 nonprofits registered and 52 received donations for a total of $124,832. Since 2014, TTCF’s Give Back Tahoe has raised more than $2.5 million for local nonprofits, including $428,821 in 2020.
I’ve had some successes as a publisher, but Give Back Tahoe is the thing of which I am most proud.
My newspaper was able to help with this effort by printing the stories of the participating organizations in a guide, which we circulated during “Giving Season,” that listed the participating organizations, delivered a specific ask about something they needed, and directed readers to the TTCF website to donate. We found folks in the business community who had a passion for the work being done by the groups in one of our categories to sponsor that section of the guide, and offered them the opportunity to explain in our pages why they believed in the work the nonprofits were doing.
After the giving period, each week in the Sierra Sun, as part of the ongoing campaign to keep these organizations and the program top of mind, each participant had an opportunity to tell the story of the positive impact they were able to accomplish because of Give Back Tahoe.
Again, these were stories that weren’t necessarily being told. For example, the gentleman who owned the local Sears was very interested in supporting education, so he sponsored that category. Which brings me to another thing I’ve learned dealing with businesses, both in my early career when I was doing sales and later in a variety of executive roles: Businesses can be a key contributor to the fabric of a community, beyond providing goods, services and employment. Whether it’s through charitable giving or by rallying their employees to volunteer for things like beach cleanup efforts, most business leaders care about being good partners in the communities they serve.
I first got involved with California Local after my friend Eric Johnson, co-founder and editorial director, asked me to put together the original pro forma—a spreadsheet describing how the organization eventually rolls out across the state. (Eric asked me to do it because, when we worked together at another newspaper, he discovered that I love my spreadsheets.) At some point in the process, Chris Neklason, the co-founder, CEO, and inventor of our operating system, came up to Sacramento, and the three of us had lunch.
As Chris talked about creating a tool to help people participate in democracy, and Eric talked about supporting local journalism, I was inspired to suggest that California Local could adopt a business model that helps nonprofits and business organizations come together as community builders. I became the organization’s publisher the following day. Not long after, Sharan Street, who worked with Eric in San Jose some years back, joined the team as managing editor. She helped pull together the team of writers that created everything you see here, and made certain that it was all good and true.
To me, California Local is a vehicle for people to learn more about their communities, connect with their neighbors and people who share their interests, and take action—whether it be by volunteering, contributing, contacting their elected representative, or simply casting a knowledgeable vote. If we can accomplish that, then I think we’re doing the right thing. I hope you will join us.
I’d love to hear your ideas about how we might help you, your organization, and your community. Please feel free to reach out anytime.