Nonprofit organization thrives after shaky start | Earthquake Memories

Loma Prieta Earthquake in 1989

On Oct. 17, 1989 I was celebrating the end of two years of exhausting work to raise $1.3 million, create the organizational structure and hire staff and consultants to create Nonprofits Insurance Alliance by getting a haircut.

We had just moved our brand new computers (word processors really) into 2,800 square feet in the second story of a building on Cedar Street. I was on 41st Avenue in my car on my way to the haircut and the surface of the street in front of me started rolling like waves in the ocean. The huge pine trees on the side of the street were swaying side to side and large pine cones were pelting my car. I turned around and headed back to my apartment on Pearl Street.

The journey home took more than an hour. All of the traffic lights were out and when I arrived at Murray Bridge there was a 6 inch difference in the height of the bridge compared to the road! After finding another way across the river, nearing my apartment I noticed the water hydrant a block away had broken and was spewing water 15 feet in the air. The house across the street was off its foundation and the smell of gas was in the air.

Inside my apartment, I found my 10 gallon aquarium thrown 5 feet across the room and all the fish dead in my shag carpet. My refrigerator had fallen over with the door open leaving a pile of broken glass and sticky food on the floor. And, my mom’s complete china set (which I had just unpacked the day before after storing for 20 years) was in pieces mixed up with the food on the floor of my kitchen. Not one piece was spared. Not sure how long I would have water service, I filled the bathtub and ran downtown to check on the office.

Downtown was utter chaos.

Loma Prieta Earthquake in 1989

The space we had leased was undamaged (the other five locations I had considered on Pacific had all been damaged) but we had no power. When I spoke with the folks from PG&E they told me that I shouldn’t expect to have any electricity or gas to the building for three months. Three months! I was almost out of cash from delays in launching the organization and had no way to pay my employees even for a month without income. Using all of my persuasive powers, I convinced the PG&E workers that I had leased much more space than I needed and that I could provide valuable space for other businesses if they just got us power to our building. Within three days they had figured out a way to connect our power to a location away from Pacific Avenue. We had multiple tenants right away filling every niche in the building.

For us the Loma Prieta disaster turned into a way to survive.

The rent from the tenants helped us to make payroll during our first year. This year, Nonprofits Insurance Alliance, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit owned and governed by its nonprofit members, will celebrating 30 years of service. We insure 20,000 community-based nonprofits across 32 states and have $500 million in assets and more than 100 employees. And we are building a wonderful “net zero” 26,000 square foot headquarters on the Westside in the Delaware Addition with a plan to move in early 2019.

COTA Image Icon

Fundraising for Transplant-Related Expenses

COTA can help remove the financial barriers to a life-saving transplant by providing fundraising assistance and family support.