'Tis the season: Nonprofits get help from area foundation

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In a recent Associated Press article, it was reported that Colorado ranks No. 41 in the United States for charitable giving practices, according to the Catalogue for Philanthropy 2002 Generosity Index, which based its figures on itemized charitable donations reported on 2001 federal income tax returns. New Hampshire was at the bottom rung of the index, and Mississippi held the top spot as the most generous state in the union.

Ironically, the average yearly income in New Hampshire is $51,000, as opposed to Mississippi’s $34,000 median annual income – the lowest in the country. Overall, New England is home to the most tight-fisted states, while the Bible Belt states are the most open-handed.

Here at home, Susan Saksa, co-director of the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce Nonprofit Partnership, says Colorado’s No. 41 position “speaks to the need to tell our stories.” Saksa adds, “We need to increase awareness & . Often those with the least give the most.” Saksa also says nonprofit organizations need to beef up marketing efforts and target the people who “resonate with the cause.”

There are 15,243 nonprofit organizations in Colorado, and 12 percent – 1,500 -are located in Colorado Springs. Approximately 600 are active, says Saksa. And Colorado is fourth in the nation in the growing number of nonprofit organizations.

And some of the biggies with national and international missions, like the U.S. Olympic Training Center and Focus on the Family, are based in the Springs. “There are over 100 Christian organizations in the Pikes Peak region raising money outside of the community but employing people within the state,” says Saksa. Although there are obvious tax breaks, Saksa says nonprofits pay employment taxes and augment the business community by utilizing local services and buying home-based products. And most of the Springs nonprofits provide paychecks for the locals.

Is Colorado Springs

giving back?

When the economy is stressed, Saksa says, “Businesses are likely to step back their financial support,” and government grants decrease. Businesses may continue to support with in-kind contributions, such as advertising and manpower, which Saksa says is a “win-win for everyone.” But individuals continue to give even in tough times, adds Saksa, so “successful nonprofits that know how to reach individual donors are in a better place.” The survivors are organizations with strong boards and diverse fundraising strategies.

One steadfast source of funding for local nonprofits is the El Pomar Foundation, the second-largest foundation in Colorado, with assets totaling over $450 million. Established in 1937 by Spencer and Julie Penrose, the foundation distributes close to $20 million annually to statewide nonprofit organizations. El Pomar also funds its own 14 programs in the areas of leadership, at-risk youth, environmental issues and seniors, to name a few. Kae Rader, associate vice-president of the El Pomar Foundation, says the foundation is a “good steward of its dollars.”

El Pomar recently initiated a rural outreach program to Colorado regions that do not have a strong philanthropic presence, says Rader. Regional councils will be established to identify and address community issues in the following areas: the San Luis Valley, Pueblo, Durango and Grand Junction.

In the past 15 years, El Pomar has awarded $2.9 million to more than 365 nonprofits in 105 cities in Colorado. Last week, 33 nonprofits were honored at the 15th annual El Pomar Foundation “Awards for Excellence” presentation at The Broadmoor International Center. Twelve of the 33 nonprofit honorees received cash awards totaling over $320,000. The Springs boasted three cash winners: the Catamount Institute, the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation and T.E.S.S.A. Each was awarded $15,000.

It’s a big boost to T.E.S.S.A., a Springs nonprofit that addresses the needs of victims of domestic and family violence and adult sexual assault. The organization, which receives approximately 50,000 domestic violence and sexual assault-related calls annually and serves over 10,000 clients per year, experienced a financial crunch in 2003 due to cuts in government dollars, which comprise over 50 percent of the organization’s budget. But individuals and organizational contributions will be either “flat or up” this year, depending on the Christmas spirit, says Cari Davis, executive director of T.E.S.S.A. “Most of the individual and corporate donations come in during the next three weeks,” adds Davis. ‘Tis the season, but the increased money flow is genuinely due to the holiday spirit of giving, with just a sprinkling of last-minute, tax-savings thoughts, says Davis.

T.E.S.S.A. is diversifying its marketing efforts through a new Christmas project, “Light a Luminary.” One-hundred percent of the $5 received from the sale of each luminary kit will go toward T.E.S.S.A.’s programs. The project’s goal is to line neighborhoods with the luminaries, encouraging every home to light them on Christmas Eve in support of the victims of domestic violence. If people are aware of the issues related to domestic and family violence, perhaps they will take action before a situation escalates, says Davis. In 2002, there were 18 domestic violence-related deaths in El Paso County. For more information about the “Light a Luminary” project, call 785-6825.

From family violence issues to environmental concerns, nonprofit organizations are invested in the community, and wise communities invest in return.

- Editorial@csbj.com