Area could have new case of donor fatigue

Last year at this time, many of us who are involved in big or small ways with area nonprofit agencies were adding a new term to our vocabulary.

Donor fatigue.

The region had suffered during the Waldo Canyon fire, and we had endured most of the economic and personal aftershocks. For months, we heard story after amazing story of people and groups showing the depths of their generosity.

But that didn’t make life easier for many of the region’s nonprofits with no direct link to the fire. They soon realized that even their faithful donors didn’t have as much as in other years to give for charitable purposes. Yet, the nonprofits that suffered as a result didn’t dare speak out very loudly, because (a)they didn’t want to be embarrassed and (b) they didn’t want to sound uncaring — as if their problems were impacted or exacerbated by money that might have gone to them instead being directed to the fire-relief effort.

Nonprofits need the kind of help and firepower that corporate sponsors can provide. 

This summer, the situation has worsened. We endured the Black Forest fire in June, followed by repeated nasty flooding that has struck downstream from the two highly vulnerable burn scars.

Once again, thousands of area residents have helped as generously as they could. And once again, we’re starting to hear anecdotal stories of nonprofits facing more struggles. At the same time, they aren’t giving up.

Here’s one observation from Dave Somers, executive director of the Center for Nonprofit Excellence: “I believe that the past several years, with the economic downturn and our recent natural disasters, have motivated nonprofits to be more resourceful and resilient. While the ability to attract new funding has slowed, many nonprofits have done what they needed to do, which is to diversify their funding and cultivate loyal support.”

One tactic, which more and more nonprofits appear to be embracing, is working hard to develop one or more corporate sponsors as year-round supporters. They cultivate that relationship and build the loyalty, instead of the business just helping on one event or campaign and then moving on.

Here’s an example: This week, I attended a luncheon where Northwestern Mutual of Colorado Springs presented a check for $63,000 to the Citizen Soldier Connection, a local nonprofit trying to help soldiers and their families in ways that the military doesn’t.

That $63,000 amounted to the proceeds from a fundraiser golf tournament, the Rocky Mountain Scramble. The amount sounds good, but even more impressive are the details of how that event has grown in just four years.

“We started out the first year making just $5,000,” said Kevin Kaveney, managing director of Northwestern Mutual – Colorado Springs, which clearly has adopted the Citizen Soldier Connection as its cause. “The second year it jumped all the way to $19,000. Then in the third year, we went to $32,000 — and we were able to get a $10,000 grant on top of that from Northwestern Mutual. But this time it’s basically double what the event itself made last year.”

Obviously that relationship is permanent, and Citizen Soldier Connection board chairman Terrance McWilliams talked about how every cent of that money stays here, which matters to donors.

“And this support is still going to be needed for the long term. It won’t end when combat operations end,” McWilliams said, noting that the U.S. military now has a presence in 121 nations. And with so many military retirees staying here to live, that’s another good base for support. But the nonprofit still needs the kind of corporate help and firepower that Northwestern Mutual provides, as many other local companies do for other nonprofits.

Meanwhile, it’s been an up-and-down year at Care and Share Food Bank for Southern Colorado. After being inundated last year with donations earmarked for fire victims, Care and Share encountered a challenge keeping up with the ongoing needs of its clientele, here and in poverty-stricken rural areas, especially in southeastern Colorado.

Now, of course, the same thing is happening again.

Lynne Telford, Care and Share’s CEO, paints a realistic picture of the situation among area nonprofits, saying, “Most everyone I know is projecting no or little growth. We won a couple of grants to buy two new trucks. We are excited about the trucks, but are still very aware of covering our operating costs.

“I wish I could tell you that there is an air of optimism, or that our client base is starting to benefit from economic recovery, but that is not what I am seeing.”

Care and Share is not alone. So when you hear about any nonprofit needing help, even perhaps some that have been around a long time, that need is real.

And if your company doesn’t have a charitable partner, now might be the best time to look for one. Rest assured, they aren’t hard to find.