Inside Oakland Foundation's 'Conference Center with a Conscience' to For-Profit Groups

The East Bay Community Foundation, a charitable foundation in Oakland, Calif., has opened a new "Conference Center with a Conscience" as part of what it says is a larger trend among U.S. charities, which are increasingly deploying social enterprise to raise funds in the wake of the Great Recession, it announced yesterday.

The conference center, the "James Irvine Foundation Conference Center at the East Bay Community Foundation," was opened in 2003 and has been used ever since to host nonprofit meetings at below-market rates — and sometimes free of charge. To help it with its fundraising efforts, however, the foundation has now opened the facility to corporate clients, as well, in competition with for-profit conference centers.

"We call it the 'Conference Center with a Conscience' because all proceeds support the work of the East Bay Community Foundation and our efforts to advance economic opportunity and the education that leads to it," said East Bay Community Foundation President and CEO Nicole Taylor. "The conference center provides business organizations with an opportunity to book a value-priced, quiet, state-of-the-art, conveniently located facility for a meeting or a conference of up to 120 people — and to give back to the community, all at the same time."

Heeding the advice of experts, who've said charities should build their revenues by turning a profit instead of relying solely on donations, East Bay spent the past several months renovating its conference facilities with fresh paint, kitchen upgrades and new audio/visual equipment.

"Of course, we will continue to offer the conference center to nonprofit organizations on the same terms as we have previously," Taylor said. "At the same time, our capability to continue being one of the largest sources of philanthropic support to worthy causes in the East Bay depends not only on our success of attracting donations, but also on maximizing all potential sources of revenue and operating as efficiently as we possibly can."