Donations to Vail Valley nonprofits can be ‘transformative’ | VailDaily.com

Donations to Vail Valley nonprofits can be ‘transformative’

EAGLE COUNTY — The Vail Valley would look a lot different without philanthropy.

From people who volunteer to help with ski races to those who provide large cash donations, community aid efforts in the valley have provided big boosts to the quality of life here.

Some donations are literally life-saving. Over the past couple of decades, Vail Valley Medical Center has parlayed large donations into the Shaw Regional Cancer Center, the heart catheterization lab at the hospital in Vail and any number of equipment and facility purchases.

The medical center's current capital fundraising campaign — which includes expanding the Vail hospital and supporting research at the Steadman Philippon Research Institute — recently received a substantial boost.

"Philanthropy provides for the margin of excellence our patients deserve," Vail Valley Medical Center President and CEO Doris Kirchner wrote in an emailed statement. "Donations allow the hospital to purchase state-of-the-art equipment, attract and retain top-tier medical staff and fund a wide array of services and programs you might not otherwise see in a rural setting like ours."

The checks from these and other donors do a lot, but there's more at work.

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The Vail Valley Foundation has a 35-year history in Eagle County. Philanthropy has funded big events including the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in 1989, 1999 and 2015. But the foundation also runs educational programs, free summer concerts in Vail and Eagle and operates the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater in Vail as well as the Vilar Performing Arts Center in Beaver Creek.

Giving in different ways

Foundation president Mike Imhof said that work wouldn't be possible without a range of philanthropy.

"It wasn't just people who gave (money), but people willing to roll up their sleeves to help," Imhof said.

That level of involvement is rare.

"We are an anomaly," Imhof said. "We have an unbelievably generous community that's philanthropic and has a strong spirit of volunteerism. … In big cities you see incredible generosity. But we have that spirit of volunteerism. … That's what allowed us to mobilize 2,300 volunteers for the 2015 championships."

Imhof said that volunteerism encompasses a wide spectrum of residents, from retirees who work security at Vilar Center events to people who write some of those large checks.

"Our donors are some of our most active volunteers," Imhof said.

Kim Langmaid started the Gore Range Natural Science School with $500 and a bit of space in the former elementary school in Red Cliff in 1998. After that modest start, the school has evolved into Walking Mountains Science Center, which in the past few years has opened a brand-new facility in Avon and expanded its mission far beyond the original idea of bring environmental education to local students.

Langmaid said those early years were a challenge, not because the mission isn't worthy, but because people, including potential donors, wanted to see if the new school could deliver on its promises.

"Those first five years were extremely challenging," Langmaid said.

The school delivered and has been able to attract the kind of corporate and private attention that brought the Avon facility into being.

One of the biggest donors — and the biggest donor to the Avon construction project — was the Precourt Family Foundation. That group has funded a variety of local projects. That foundation sponsors the annual Global Energy Forum in Beaver Creek, and it also recently provided a $10 million donation to Vail Valley Medical Center, a portion of which helped fund the heart catheterization lab.

'Transformational' giving

Those and other benefactors "can be transformational in terms of our community and the greater world," Langmaid said. "That's what makes this community so special."

Beyond individual donors, Langmaid said a strong nonprofit group needs an outstanding board of directors.

Langmaid praised Walking Mountains' board, saying individual members bring a diversity of opinions to the operation. Those individuals also help develop relationships with other individuals and companies that might be willing to help.

At the Vail Valley Foundation, Imhof said active, engaged boards are also essential at well-established organizations.

"Our board's as important today as it was 35 years ago," he said.

Both board members and group staff members also expand their boundaries in our small valley.

Imhof said local nonprofit groups will hold occasional informal mixers throughout the year. Those informal get-togethers can help everyone involved, he said.

In the case of an organization like YouthPower365, a youth-focused arm of the Vail Valley Foundation that grew out of the Youth Foundation, Imhof said those contacts — generally with other, youth-focused groups — are more formal and more frequent.

In the case of the foundation, there can be a lot of help available to other, smaller groups, including the use of the amphitheater in Vail and the Vilar Center.

Through it all, though, Imhof said people at nonprofit groups new or established need to stay focused on what they do.

"Every day, every week, every month, every year, you have to remind your constituency of the value of your work and the outcomes," Imhof said. "You need to show why (a project) is worth the investment."

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, smiller@vaildaily.com and @scottnmiller.

A big help

Large cash donations are, happily, relatively common in the Vail Valley. Here’s a look at some of the major donations just to Vail Valley Medical Center.

$18 million: From Harold and Mary Louise Shaw to the Shaw Regional Cancer Center, which opened in 2001.

$10 million: From Mike and Mary Sue Shannon to the medical center’s capital campaign.

$10 million: From the Precourt Family Foundation to support the heart catheterization lab.