Summit County nonprofits feel the pinch from recession |

Summit County nonprofits feel the pinch from recession

Rory Moulton
Summit County, CO Colorado

SUMMIT COUNTY, Colorado ” Charitable giving in Summit County is down drastically this year, most notably in the Summit County Cares drive, which with just two weeks to go has reached less than one-tenth of its $125,000 fundraising goal, despite a month-long publicity blitz.

At The Summit Foundation’s annual Philanthropy Awards held last month, nearly every speaker, from emcee Jeffrey Bergeron to presenters and recipients, spoke about 2009 as being a challenging year for Summit County nonprofits.

Everyone agreed that the recession would put increased pressure on nonprofits to provide greater goods and services, while also facing a much tougher fundraising climate.

In a time of declining personal and business revenue and increasing community needs, it is a difficult time for nonprofits that rely on individual, government and corporate donations to save social needs.

More need, less money to give

Sharon Russell, executive director of the nonprofit Summit Chamber of Commerce, has worked in the nonprofit sector for decades, spanning several recessions.

In previous recessions, Russell identified two major impacts felt by the nonprofit community:

1) Foundation investments ” bonds, stocks, mutual funds ” take the same hit as personal and business investments. As foundations lose money, or generate less income, on their investments, they disseminate less grant money and exercise a great deal more discretion when giving.

2) Individual donors have less discretionary income, and thus, less money to spend and donate. It’s frequently nonprofits that pay the price.

The Summit Foundation, which raises over $1.3 million annually for hundreds of local charities, has not yet felt the affects of the recession. In fact, the foundation will be granting slightly more money this year than last.

But that doesn’t mean they’re immune.

“We’re concerned. We’re budgeting for a drop (in donations),” said Lee Zimmerman, The Summit Foundation executive director.

At a time when nonprofits face a dismal fundraising climate, they’re also being confronted with an increase in need for their services.

“We’ve experienced a significant increase in all sectors. We’re seeing more requests in the basics ” food, clothing, shelter ” and we’re seeing more need in the nonprofit community,” said Zimmerman.

Silver lining

Despite the gloomy forecast, Russell and Zimmerman see an opportunity for nonprofits in these tough times.

“For all of us, it’s an opportunity to look at what we do and how we add value and provide services to the community,” Russell said.

Russell went on to explain that in a recession, 70 percent of businesses survive, 25 percent fail and 5 percent thrive. Her goal at the Chamber is to lead her members into the 5 percent category.

For many, it means making tougher decisions and focusing on core strengths.

“It forces us to look deeper internally at all of our projects to see how they’ll affect the community. It also makes us look closer at other organizations to see how we can work together and better leverage our dollars,” Zimmerman said.

It was a sentiment echoed by Russell.

“It will require nonprofits to identify their strengths and what is working. The end result is their benefactors are better served,” said Russell.

Support Local Journalism