Nonprofits’ new era

Front Range nonprofits faced novel needs among residents in recent years, spurred by demographic shifts, economic changes and natural disasters. At the same time, they faced a shifting fundraising landscape as the public migrates toward the Internet and social media for information about charitable causes and monetary giving.

The Community Foundation Serving Boulder County recently released its biennial Trends Report, tracking information such as residents’ access to housing, education, the arts and other research regarding quality of life in the county, said Josie Heath, executive director of the foundation. Colorado grew older and more diverse, according to the Trends Report, and Boulder County poverty is on the rise with one in seven residents now living below the poverty line.

In addition to research, The Community Foundation does leadership work, encouraging a culture of giving and is a major grant maker.

“We’ve given out more that $55 million to nonprofits in our 21 years,” Heath said. The Community Foundation focuses on nonprofits in areas such as health and human services, the environment, education and the arts. The recent flooding prompted people to come forward.

“People have come to us to establish individual funds for flood relief,” Heath said. Natural disasters spark additional needs within the community, too – something the Emergency Family Assistance Association has seen.

EFAA helps families, seniors and people with disabilities meet basic needs, said Marissa Hallo Tafura, associate director of marketing and development for EFAA. It serves Boulder and Broomfield counties and significantly stepped up its assistance during the recent flood.

“We had case workers at the disaster assistance centers … and hired a temporary case worker to provide specialized attention for families from the flood,” Hallo Tafura said. EFAA opened transitional housing – furnished apartments in Louisville – for affected families, and provided money or vouchers for some flood-incurred expenses, she said.

While the post-flood outpouring of donations has been tremendous, Hallo Tafura said, EFAA still must serve families impacted by the rising tide of poverty in the area.

“If people are going to give to a disaster, we hope it won’t change what they would normally give to others,” she said. So far that hasn’t been the case.

“We just had our celebration gala … and we set a record,” Hallo Tafura said, noting that $214,000 was raised this year largely through business sponsorship led by Boulder Brands.

Diversity in Colorado increased by 5 percent since 2000, according to the Trends Report, with 30 percent of Coloradans people of color.

For Colorado immigrants, a smooth transition into the culture fosters success. Boulder-based Intercambio trains volunteers to teach English and other life skills to immigrants, said Lee Shainis, its executive director and co-founder. The nonprofit serves more than 1,000 immigrants from 60 nations, using around 500 volunteers.

Attracting and retaining volunteers is essential.

“We always need more volunteers,” Shainis said.

The majority of volunteers come to Intercambio through word of mouth, with advertising, print and radio media reaching others. The organization reaches out through other venues, too, including speaking at area religious institutions, clubs, and at school and other events. They’re exploring advertising on buses, too.

Reaching potential donors has changed, as well.

“I think that donors are becoming more engaged and more savvy,” Shainis said. “Nonprofits are walking that fine line between being visible … without being annoying.”

Brian Conly, executive director of Broomfield-based nonprofit Bal Swan Children’s Centers, approaches donors differently, too, using Facebook, Twitter, email and other social media marketing more often.

“It used to be if you got an article in the paper a couple times a year that was great,” Conly said.

Now some donors expect regular social media updates and contact. Last year Bal Swan offered donors a website giving options for their annual fundraiser and received nearly 50 percent of its donations online, something that’s changed significantly in the past five years, Conly said. Many people still donate through traditional avenues, prompting many nonprofits to meet donors on multiple fronts rather than dropping old ways to make room for the new.

That’s true when fundraising for the arts, too. Boulder boasts a high concentration of artists, according to the Trends Report, but art fundraising is notoriously tricky, said Bill Obermeier, executive director of The Dairy Center for the Arts.

“We’re not much different than where we were a year ago in terms of individual giving, but it seems like grant opportunities have moved away from the arts,” Obermeier said. A strong art community offers a good return on investment by boosting creativity and attracting and retaining residents, he said, and people attending arts events tend to spend more money at local businesses than do other visitors.

Boulder County donors look generous by absolute dollar amount, Heath said, giving about 4 percent of their income to charity. It’s a bit deceiving, though, as the national average is 4.7 percent.

“It means,” Heath said, “that we shortchange the nonprofits here when we don’t give at the level of others.”