United Way: Giving lower in Springs

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El Paso and Teller county residents give at a lower rate to the local United Way than many other Coloradans do to their chapters of the charity.

Per-capita giving in Colorado to United Way is $13.06, but the Pikes Peak United Way receives just $9.25 per-capita.

Residents of the Denver and Fort Collins areas give at rates close to twice as high as locals here do.

The consequence is that the local United Way, which hopes to raise $5.8 million in donations this year,  is forced to set more modest fundraising goals compared to other like-sized cities such as Des Moines, Iowa and Wichita, Kan.

In turn, that means the United Way can’t be as generous as it might hope to be in addressing the community’s needs. The issue is even more urgent today in light of high unemployment amid a slowly recovering economy.

Several factors contribute to the region’s lower per-capita giving.

In part, people earn less here compared to other parts of Colorado. Per-capita personal income in Colorado Springs is $35,717; in Colorado, that figure is $43,021.

Another reason is that for a city of its size, Colorado Springs has an unusually high number of nonprofit organizations — 1,989 in all.

Specifically, there are 786 public charities, 122 foundations, 643 congregations or faith-based organizations and 438 social-bonding groups.

With so many nonprofits competing for charitable dollars, some say that lower per-capita giving to the United Way is to be expected.

“There are so many opportunities for people to give (locally) that they’re taking advantage of that,” said J.D. Dallager, CEO of Pikes Peak United Way.

Another reason could be the area’s large number of typically low-paid military personnel, most of whom are here for only a short time.

“A lot of people are just passing through,” said Howard Brooks, executive director of Energy Resource Center of the Pikes Peak Region. “They may not have as much community investment as long-term people.”

The down economy also is to blame.

Some residents who used to be donors are now recipients of United Way services. Calls to United Way’s 211 social service hotline, for instance, increased 13 percent from 2008 to 2009, to 27,000-plus calls.

When the service first started in 2004, 211 received 8,000 calls.

The need was also evident at Catholic Charities of Colorado Springs, which relies on the United Way for some of its funding. It saw a 40-percent increase in 2008 in requests for help with people’s utility, rent, medication and food bills and a 15-percent increase in 2009.

“The need is so visible that there isn’t anybody out there who hasn’t experienced it themselves or seen it firsthand,” said Jason Christensen, CEO of the group.

Overall individual donations are up 12 percent at Catholic Charities, he said, but the average gift per person has gone down slightly.

Another factor hindering United Way donations is the area’s lack of corporate headquarters, whose employees are often some of the biggest sources of donations to the charity.

The Pikes Peak United Way does have one advantage over most other United Ways that helps it offset the area’s lower per-capita giving.

It is one of fewer than 20 United Ways worldwide with a Cornerstone Partners program under which local corporate sponsorships cover administrative and fundraising costs. As a result, all donor dollars go entirely toward programs that help people in need.

Additionally, although locals may not donate as many dollars as elsewhere, they spend a lot of time volunteering.

Sixty-nine percent of Colorado Springs residents volunteer — more than double the state average of 33 percent.

Many of United Way’s programs and 42 partner agencies could not exist without volunteers. “A core of people here are very sacrificial in their giving and volunteering — you can’t discount volunteering,” Brooks said.

“Some people do it nearly full-time. And they are critical to making this city work.”

Nonetheless, the need remains for more donations, and the United Way and other nonprofits are doing all they can to beef up the contributions they receive.

For example, the Marion House, run by Catholic Charities, has taken an aggressive approach to social networking, while also encouraging people to tour its downtown facility.

Also, after revamping its Web site, online donations have doubled for Catholic Charities.

Dave Somers, executive director of the Center for Nonprofit Excellence in downtown Colorado Springs, said it’s also important that nonprofits “learn how to tell their story so they can engage the hearts of potential donors to their organization.”

“When done effectively, it increases their revenue that comes in. It’s often the stories that will pull at the heartstrings of individual donors,” Somers said.

The United Way is taking a number of steps to bolster giving.

It is taking “an even more aggressive stance” in recruiting new corporations to offset declines in donations. Thirty-three new companies were added to its donor roster in 2009, and its goal for 2010 is 50 more, said Joe McCulley, campaign director.