Everything can feel precarious when you’re a newer nonprofit trying to get established: You’re working to raise awareness of your mission and create a positive impact in your community, all while learning the ropes of how to run a nonprofit.
During this time, setbacks can come at you in a hurry — potentially putting your entire mission at risk. When the stakes are that high, you want to have an insurer in your corner that understands the challenges you’re dealing with.
Recently, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit approached the staff of Nonprofits Insurance Alliance (NIA) in a very tight spot — they needed insurance coverage, and they needed it fast.
Here’s what happened.
Meet Teapot Gardens
Teapot Gardens is an art-and-culture nonprofit based in Los Angeles, CA. Founded in 2020, their mission is to create the first public Persian garden in the West, an arena for artists to share their talents.
Sorina Vaziri, founder of Teapot Gardens, explained that Persian-style gardening — like you’d find in places such as the Taj Mahal or the Secret Gardens in Marrakesh — combine art and gardening into creating relaxing spaces for people to gather.
“They’re designed for living outdoors,” she said. “The whole idea is to center around life in a garden.”
Gardens of this sort, Vaziri said, were originally called “paradaiza” — the origin of the word “paradise” — and were intended to provide an oasis in an arid, desert landscape, and can include features such as strategically planted trees, soft flowing water, fragrance flowers, and fruit-producing plants.
Operating in South Central Los Angeles, Teapot Gardens hosts community events and free art workshops where artists teach children and families an art technique or process in a nature or garden setting, helping them connect with the outdoors as well as with each other.
“We use art as a therapy to build community,” Vaziri said. “Families just want to get to know each other and feel less isolated.”
While the ultimate goal of Teapot Gardens is to one day create its own garden to regularly host events, the organization does not currently have a permanent location.
That means that, aside from a demonstration garden located at Vaziri’s home, Teapot Gardens’ events and workshops are often held in rented public spaces and parks.
“Right now, we’re nomadic and we’re looking to create that paradise garden,” Vaziri said. “We’re still building our budget, creating partnerships — we’re being patient, building funds,”
Renting public spaces came with its own set of difficulties, though. When a nonprofit hosts an official event on rented county-owned space, the nonprofit is required to present proof that they have liability insurance.
But, in an experience shared by far too many other nonprofits, Vaziri found she was unable to secure adequate insurance from any commercial insurance provider she tried.
“It’s been really hard to find coverage as an art-and-culture collective,” she said. “With contracts with the county, you couldn’t find coverage that was sufficient — it just wasn’t comprehensive enough.”
Vaziri said that she hunted for insurance coverage for months, and was either turned away outright, or offered coverage that was wholly insufficient to meet the needs of her growing nonprofit.
“They wouldn’t cover nonprofits,” she explained. “Or if they did, they would only offer it on an event-by-event basis — at one time we had insurance for two weeks.”
It reached a point where Teapot Gardens rented spaces individually and risked hosting unofficial, uninsured events. While the county looked the other way for a short time, eventually Vaziri was presented with an ultimatum.
“They were getting sick of us not having coverage,” she said. “We were given one week to get insurance.”
“I begged them to extend it and they did — but they only extended it by a day.”
How NIA Helped
With the clock ticking and her organization’s back against the proverbial wall, Vaziri said she began desperately searching for any insurer that would speak with her.
“I was just Googling ‘nonprofit insurance’ thinking there must be something out there,” she explained.
Eventually, that search led her to discover Nonprofits Insurance Alliance.
When Vaziri reached out to NIA, she was referred to a broker who explained her predicament to NIA’s staff, who then sprang into action to expedite the process to get a quotation.
“It’s amazing — we were able to get insurance very quickly,” Vaziri marveled. “I think we applied on Thursday and were insured by Monday.”
However, there was one last hurdle to be cleared.
To meet the county’s deadline, Vaziri was required to provide a certificate of insurance no later than 5 p.m. that Friday or risk not being able to rent county spaces.
According to NIA CEO Pamela E. Davis, normally a nonprofit would be able to get such a certificate from their broker. But, when Vaziri attempted to contact her broker to ask for one, the broker happened to be out of their office.
In desperation, she called Davis directly.
“She called me at about 4 p.m. on Friday saying, ‘I’ve been trying to get ahold of my broker all day and I have until 5 p.m. today to get this to the county,’” Davis recalled.
It being late on a Friday afternoon and with most NIA staff wrapping up their duties for the weekend, Davis called NIA’s Chief Underwriting Officer Dusti McKeown and the pair began brainstorming a possible solution.
It wasn’t long before McKeown found some documentation which could be provided to Vaziri that proved that Teapot Gardens was insured by NIA. It was enough for the county to accept, and Teapot Gardens was able to meet their deadline.
“It was a lifesaver,” Vaziri said. “The team was so incredibly helpful and helped us get everything were needed really quickly.”
Now equipped with adequate liability insurance coverage, Teapot Gardens has been able to move ahead with its planned events, not only with the peace of mind of being insured — but also saving money.
“Before, we were paying rental fees,” Vaziri said. “Now we’re able to get free spaces to reserve at parks for our events.”