Philanthropy runs deep in Grand
Ryan Summerlin October 1, 2013
Grand County residents have a passion for charitable causes. It’s evident after last weekend alone — a productive wrap-up of Rural Philanthropy Days in Winter Park, a successful “Taste of Fall” fundraiser in Granby for domestic violence victims, and a strong turnout of cancer cure advocates during the race/walk in Grand Lake.
The county’s dedication to nonprofits is evident in the numbers, too. According to nonprofit tax information filed with the Internal Revenue Service, Grand County ranks 25th out of 64 Colorado counties for the most registered organizations per capita. As of 2013, the county has around one nonprofit organization for every 119 residents. The total revenue reported from these organizations was just under $44.7 million. Grand County ranks 28th in the state on the reported revenue list.
But according to Megan Ledin, executive director with the Grand Foundation, IRS data isn’t necessarily accurate indicators of a county’s charitable organizations.
“They’re being very specific to 501(c)3s, which are charitable in nature,” Ledin said. “But there’s so much more out there.”
According to Ledin, IRS information excludes charities organized under churches and chambers of commerce. It also excludes local groups under the umbrella of statewide or national organizations, like the Girl Scouts of America.
While the most recent IRS Exempt Organizations Business Master File lists 126 nonprofits in Grand County, Ledin said there are over 180 – most likely, the number is probably approaching 190. That would put the number of Grand County charities closer to one for every 80 residents. According to Ledin, charities make up roughly 17 percent of the county’s business base, compared to 9 percent statewide.
“We live in such a fantastic community,” Ledin said. “It embraces, even if there is a duplication of services, making sure that our residents and guests are taken care of.”
Even when fueled by passion, operating a nonprofit in a rural community with a large geographical spread isn’t easy.
For Lisa Jonas at Grand County Pet Pals, an organization dedicated to responsible pet ownership and spay/neutering services, the biggest challenge for her nonprofit is finding volunteers.
“You only have a finite number of people, and we have so many nonprofits in Grand County,” Jonas said. “There are a lot of big-hearted people, but there’s only a so much a small amount of people can do.”
Many other nonprofits said competition for local dollars creates another major limitation.
“We have so many nonprofits here in this small community competing for the same funding sources,” said Debit Bittner with Advocates for a Violence-Free Community. “Finding a way to share all of those things is great in theory, hard in practice.”
Advocates works with domestic violence victims and runs a safe house. Bittner said that the organization works to collaborate with other local charities and avoids duplicating services. Still, for some, the geographical distance between resources in Grand County make duplication a necessity.
“If someone is humble enough and desperate enough to go to a food bank, they probably don’t have enough to drive (from Granby) to Grand Lake or Hot Sulphur,”said Deb Gahan, founder of Grand Angels, a church-based organization providing food and emergency financial assistance to county residents.
Still, Gahan said that collaboration among charities is often key in effectively spreading around resources.
“How do we efficiently meet needs with less cost – cost in time, resources and dollars?” she said. “If we can get a team together of all these nonprofits, we don’t have to solve the same problem 10 or 15 times.”
Gahan is looking to form a collaborative panel with several nonprofit leaders she met over the Rural Philanthropy Days event in Winter Park. She hopes to use social media, blogging and other tools to build a network, draw volunteers and help market services.
In general, most of the county’s nonprofits are run on donations and event fundraisers. Pet Pals, for example, does it annual Doggie Drag and Pet Photos with Santa. Every two years, Grand Angels holds its Loaves and Fish with silent auction. Advocates hosts an annual Taste of Fall dinner.
But a variety of funding is also available to these organizations through grants. The difficulty lies in bridging funders with rural organizations in need.
“We have a very robust foundation community in Colorado, but most of those funders are based in the Front Range,” said Maria Fabula, executive director of the Community Resource Center in Denver. “So in your county’s northwest region, even accessing Denver can be a challenge.”
After creating a Colorado grant guide in the early 1990s, the Community Resource Center found only 3 percent of private foundation awards went to organizations outside of the Front Range. To make relationships between funders and charities more accessible, the center partnered with the Anschutz Family Foundation to create Rural Philanthropy Days.
The event comes to the Northwest Region, which includes Grand and four other counties, every four years. In addition to networking opportunities, it provides rural nonprofits with leadership training, technical assistance and professionfal development. This year, the event was held at Winter Park with over 270 participants.
According to Fabula, a study of the most recent Rural Philanthropy Days four-year cycle found its 14 core funders provided over $8.5 million to nonprofits in the Northwest Colorado region. In Grand County, that amounted to 66 grants for a total of just over $1.1 million.
“It’s really, really great to engage individually with funders,” said Deb Bittner with Advocates. “It’s bringing up funders from Denver and across the state to get a feel for who we are, what we do, and why it’s important to fund rural Colorado.”
For Grand County Commissioner Merrit Linke, who attended several of the Rural Philanthropy Days workshops and discussions, the single biggest take away message was that funders are looking for the region’s charities to get on the same page.
“We have a diverse group of nonprofits, but with some overlap,” he said. “(Funders) want them under one umbrella with common goals that they can get behind.”
As a governmental leader, Linke has heard his share of funding petitions. The county mostly partners with the Grand Foundation to determine where its charitable dollars can best be spent.
“We let them do a lot of the work,” Linke said. “But we try to help groups that are the most beneficial for the county and a wide range of people.”
Many town boards, too, have turned to the Grand Foundation to help them assess needs and distribute funds to the county’s numerous charitable causes.
“We used to have a system where we’d have to review all grant requests coming in,” said Granby Mayor Jynnifer Pierro. “During budget time it’s incredibly time-consuming.”
Although Grand County has a high number of charities compared with other counties in the region, most nonprofit leaders and government officials don’t necessarily see it as a problem.
“I think there are a plenitude of challenges in our rural communities, and I see nonprofits forming to meet those challenges,” Fabula said.
And, as Fabula points out, nonprofits have a lifecycle. Without the community supporting them with funds and volunteer time, the organizations wouldn’t thrive.
Megan Ledin and her small staff at the Grand Foundation are perhaps the most keenly aware of how numerous the area’s charities are and the specific challenges that competition creates. But she’s seen both the county and entire state embrace philanthropy and keep charitable causes thriving.
“I used to think it was just Grand County … but now I think it’s Colorado,” she said. “I think we’re just a very passionate, philanthropic state. When someone finds a cause, they want it taken care of and they embrace it with their whole heart.”