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Aspen-area nonprofits adapt to post-recession world

Scott Condon
scondon@aspentimes.com
Aspen, CO Colorado

Editor’s note: This is the latest installment in a series looking at how individuals and organizations in the Roaring Fork Valley are coping with the recession.

ASPEN – Many Aspen-area nonprofits learned to live with smaller budgets in 2009, but the recession also produced some unexpected results.

The Buddy Program, one of Aspen’s prominent human services organizations, whittled down two positions last year and required its remaining staffers to take on extra duties. But instead of sinking spirits, the challenges brought the staff closer together and even raised morale, according to Buddy Program Executive Director Catherine Anne Provine.

Another surprising finding was that people were more generous than ever with their time even if they couldn’t be as giving with their pocket books, Provine said. Volunteerism shot up for the nonprofit.

The Buddy Program, like many successful nonprofits, figured out how to do as much or even more with less in 2009. This year might bring more of the same as far as fundraising.

“I don’t think it will be worse,” said Tamara Tormohlen, executive director of the Aspen Community Foundation, which supports numerous civic endeavors and helps area nonprofits with financial planning and goal setting.

“I think it’s on the upswing, but it’s tenuous,” Tormohlen added.

The Buddy Program eased its pain in 2009 by anticipating problems. Its 2009 income was down 18 percent from 2008.

“Fortunately, we anticipated these decreases and were able to start our budget adjustments at the beginning of the year,” Provine said.

The organization cut its expenses by 18 percent as well.

“We eliminated two staff positions, and the rest of the staff absorbed those roles,” Provine said.

The organization also suspended its wellness benefit and 401(k) match for remaining employees. A staff member followed through with a plan to join the Peace Corp. at the end of 2009, resulting in the elimination of another half position. Other expenses were combed over to find savings.

“Our mandate was to continue the quality of our programs while eliminating any unnecessary expenses in our budget that would not affect the programs,” Provine said.

She is not trying to fool anyone by painting a rosy picture. The cuts have been difficult on the remaining staff, and she intends to make it a top priority this year to gauge if her colleagues are overworked.

“We’re down to 10 people from 13. It’s tough but it feels good,” Provine said, noting that the staff has rededicated itself to the Buddy Program mission. “It’s put the passion back in our lives.”

Donations down, volunteer time up

The organization pairs kids, often those in need, with positive role model adults in the mentoring program. The adults, or Big Buddies, commit to participate for one year, and most stay longer. The Big Buddies meet with their Little Buddies for a brief meeting such as lunch or as long as a day on the ski slopes. They generally meet three or four times per month, or roughly eight hours per month.

Staff members oversee the mentoring program, and doing so with 2.5 fewer employees has required extra effort.

Provine said a pleasant surprise during the recession has been that some of the Big Buddy volunteers have more time than ever to commit to Little Buddies. It seems that people are more giving of their time even if they cannot be as generous with donations, Provine said.

“The benefit of helping someone offsets what they’ve lost,” she said.

The Buddy Program had as many donors as ever in 2009. However, the number of donations dropped.

The community foundation’s Tormohlen said that was typical for Aspen-area nonprofits.

“It was a complete flip in a short amount of time,” she said.

The community foundation worked with numerous nonprofits to examine their core mission, assess if it was still relevant or needed alteration, and tailored their fundraising effort to the tough economic times.

“The community foundation was integral in helping me last year,” Provine said. “It spent so much time over there the last six months.”

She hopes to see less of them in 2010.


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