February 7, 2022

When disaster strikes, execs, companies, nonprofits step up

From multinational corporations and national health care chains with a local presence to area banks, restaurants and cannabis dispensaries, the list of companies offering donations of cash, goods or services to those impacted by the Dec. 30 Marshall Fire grows by the day.

Some of the businesses, and the executives who run them, do it for the tax writeoff. Some do it to bolster their public image; after all, recent studies show that 70% of millennials say they’ll spend more with brands and businesses that support good causes.

Some may figure that if they help improve the place they’re in — or help it get back on its feet after a disaster — it makes that community more attractive as a place in which to relocate, which expands their customer base.

Employee morale and loyalty also is a factor. According to a 2016 Deloitte study on volunteering, employees were “twice as likely to rate their corporate culture as very positive” if the company participated in volunteer activities such as United Way volunteer days.

But most companies and their leaders do it simply to give back to their communities.

As Ella Fahrlander, chief engagement officer for the Community Foundation of Northern Colorado, put it, “When local disasters strike, communities activate.”

When the Cameron Peak and East Troublesome fires ravaged parts of Larimer County in 2020, Fahrlander said, “I remember the smoke just hung over Northern Colorado for months, and that got people going.

“You couldn’t conduct business as usual. You couldn’t even have your dog-walk time outside in the foothills. And sometimes we can be at a loss for what to do,” she said. “That’s when local businesses find themselves very well positioned to help. We see corporations take that initiative often to add their expertise.”

To coordinate and target relief efforts, she said, businesses often turn to community foundations. Her group, founded in 1975, already had plenty of experience with responding to disasters such as the High Park fire in 2012 and the September 2013 deluge and flood. It even had participated in relief efforts for New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

It started the NoCo Fire Fund in 2020, which led to outreach far beyond the borders of Larimer County.

“We worked with organizations like Smokin’ Oak Wood-Fired Pizza in Broomfield,” Fahrlander said. “They donated a portion [of the revenue] of every pizza sold.”

But major help came from other similar nonprofits that serve as aggregators for assistance. “The community-foundation field is very supportive,” she said. “We know our peer foundations well — the Boulder County and Grand County foundations as well as United Way of Larimer County.”

To respond to the Marshall Fire, which destroyed more than 1,000 homes in Louisville, Superior and unincorporated areas, Community Foundation Boulder County quickly set up the Boulder County Wildfire Fund to provide assistance to those who lost or were evacuated from their homes, who lost their jobs at businesses that were destroyed or closed, or who lost the tools of their trades.

As of Jan. 27, the Boulder County Wildfire Fund had raised more than $26 million from more than 64,000 donors, according to the foundation’s website. It distributed more than $5 million to thousands of displaced individuals and families, granted $150,000 to United Policyholders to support those needing help in navigating their insurance-claim process, made $1.5 million available to those who lost wages, and has established an advisory committee to determine how to best distribute the balance of the money.

The existence of that fund also created a convenient place that partner foundations such as the one in Northern Colorado could send people, companies and organizations wanting to help. “We wanted to direct donors to the place most closely connected with Marshall Fire relief,” Fahrlander said, “and the Boulder County Wildfire Fund met that need. The devastation down there is just palpable.”

The types of help being given to fire victims is as varied as the companies themselves.

For instance, Jones + Co. in Boulder is working with the Red Cross to create a database of furniture that will be donated to displaced families. The Fraternal Order of Police’s Colorado Police Officers Foundation is helping families of police officers who lost their homes in the fire with a special fund that’s soliciting tax-deductible contributions. And U-Haul Co. of Northern Colorado stores, including locations in Longmont and Loveland, provided 30 days of free self-storage for people impacted by the fire in Boulder County.

Banks and credit unions are stepping up as well. JPMorgan Chase contributed $150,000 and Boulder-based Premier Members Credit Union donated $50,000 to benefit the Community Foundation Boulder County’s Wildfire Fund. Boulder-based Elevations Credit Union and its Elevations Foundation matched up to $200,000 in donations. FirstBank created programs including care packages, monetary donations and a dedicated support line. Wells Fargo banks contributed $200,000 to the American Red Cross of Colorado.

A group of 87 Boulder-area restaurants partnered with World Central Kitchen, Conscious Alliance, the Northwest Chamber Alliance and Downtown Boulder Partnership to offer hot meals to displaced residents. Snooze, an A.M. Eatery, delivered meals to emergency responders, Broomfield-based Noodles & Co.’s area stores sent 50% of all its sales on Jan. 11 to the 

wildfire fund, and Longmont-based Oskar Blues Brewery canned and sent 50,000 cans of drinking water to the affected areas, in an effort sponsored by Ball Corp., Journey’s and Medtronic.

Marijuana dispensaries chipped in as well. Native Roots donated $3,500 to the wildfire fund, while Terrapin Care Station’s Boulder County stores matched donations up to $5,000 and gave an additional $5,000 to the Humane Society of Boulder Valley and $10,000 to the Sister Carmen Community Center in Boulder.

“The most important and easiest ways to help after a disaster are financial contributions,” Fahrlander said. “No amount is too small. That’s something we can do right away, starting to activate dollars to get help in motion.”

A state law that goes into effect this year limits deductions that wealthy taxpayers take on charitable giving. Those who make a gross income of $400,000 or more will have deduction limits at $30,000 for single filers and $60,000 for joint filers starting this year.

However, noted Fahrlander, “the changes to the tax law are not going to have a significant impact on contributions. People are giving more for the need in their backyards than for tax benefits.”

From multinational corporations and national health care chains with a local presence to area banks, restaurants and cannabis dispensaries, the list of companies offering donations of cash, goods or services to those impacted by the Dec. 30 Marshall Fire grows by the day.

Some of the businesses, and the executives who run them, do it for the tax writeoff. Some do it to bolster their public image; after all, recent studies show that 70% of millennials say they’ll spend more with brands and businesses that support good causes.

Some may figure that if they help improve the place they’re in — or…

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