Design for Marin

Wander through the sprawling San Rafael house on display for the Marin Designers Showcase and you’ll be doing more than observing the latest home design trends. You’ll also be supporting local nonprofits.

Sponsored by the Auxiliary of the Center for Volunteer and Nonprofit Leadership, the annual showcase typically nets about $200,000, of which 85 percent goes to the center to support its role as a resource for more than 1,000 Marin nonprofits. The remaining 15 percent is split among three organizations selected to be the auxiliary’s “Heart Tug” recipients.

By giving a portion of the proceeds directly to nonprofits, the auxiliary can recognize the work of dedicated organizations, says Alma O’Malley, president of the group. Grants are typically about $5,000.

“The majority of the organizations tend to be smaller ones, so a $5,000 gift goes a long way,” says Linda Davis, the center’s executive director. “Given the [economic] climate and how hard it is to receive funding for something you’re already doing and to not have to come up with a new fundraising idea, it’s a great opportunity for the center and these women to help these organizations.”

This year’s Heart Tug recipients are the Helen Vine Detox Center, Marin Services for Women and the Ritter Center. The Helen Vine center provides a residential setting to help adults detoxify from alcohol or drugs and will use the money to buy 18 new mattresses and bedding. Marin Services for Women, a chemical dependency recovery organization, will expand its perinatal and child development programs. The Ritter Center, which runs programs for the working poor, will use the funds for such core services as an emergency food pantry and medical care.

Choosing grant recipients is a long process that begins each January, when the auxiliary’s 70-or-so active members review 13 different nonprofit service categories, ranging from animal welfare to women’s services. While members do take recent categories of grant recipients into account, that doesn’t preclude selecting nonprofits in the same category again. There are plenty of organizations within each grouping that could benefit from the money, O’Malley points out.

After three general categories are chosen, the center encourages organizations involved in those causes to submit grant applications. As many as 90 groups apply, and a committee of auxiliary members reviews their cases, considering such criteria as size of a nonprofit’s budget and the reach of the program the grant would support. “We’d like to make sure the money we do give is used [to benefit the people these organizations serve] rather than being used for overhead and salaries,” says O’Malley.

One recent exception: in 2006, Bridge the Gap Tutoring in Marin City offset the cost of hiring a second paid staff member thanks to auxiliary grant funds. In that case, awarding money for a salary made sense because students directly benefit, O’Malley says. The new hire works with parents, teachers and tutors to ensure a child’s educational needs are being met.

Indeed, having a staff member focused solely on advocating for students has helped reenergize the tutoring program, cofounder and codirector Bob Hunter says, and will boost student confidence and possibly parental involvement as a result. “(The position) is a big step for us and really a critical step in serving the community,” he adds.

At the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Marin, another 2006 recipient, Heart Tug funds went toward much-needed food. The group’s San Rafael dining room, which serves about 130,000 free meals a year, receives about $1 million worth of donated food, but that doesn’t supply all that’s needed. The additional money “alleviates stress for us,” says development director Christine Paquette. “It gives us that security that we’re going to be able to go and get those supplies. It also affects the quality and nutritional value of what we’re serving when we know we have those funds coming in.”

The more people who visit the Designers Showcase, the more funds can be raised for local nonprofits and the people they serve. As O’Malley says, “you can come and enjoy yourself and know you’re giving back to the community too.”

This year’s Marin Designers Showcase is September 18–October 7 and features a 1906 house in the Dominican area of San Rafael. For details, visit or call 415.479.5691.