Giving Thought: Building a sustainable community
November 8, 2016
Recently, we've devoted this column to individuals working to effect positive change in the Aspen-to-Parachute region. This week, we're speaking with Matt Hamilton, sustainability director for Aspen Skiing Co. Part of Matt's role is to support and lead the company's philanthropic efforts, which amount to roughly $3.5 million annually in cash and product.
Aspen Community Foundation: Please give us an overview of Skico's philanthropic mission and programs.
Matt Hamilton: Everybody assumes that a company can give dollars, or lift tickets in our case, but I think our greatest value is actually the contribution of time by our employees. Whether it's volunteering for Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers and Habitat for Humanity, or serving on a nonprofit board like Wilderness Workshop or English in Action, or an elected board like a city council — I actually serve on the Roaring Fork School District board — we can do a lot more by donating our time and expertise than we can on the dollar front.
Take our Environment Foundation, which has awarded $2.9 million over the past 19 years to environmental nonprofits and programs. I really believe that the value of that entity is not the money it gives away, but it's those 15 employee board members sitting down around a table and learning about community issues. They're only on that board for three years, but many of those individuals go on to leadership roles on boards or subcommittees for these nonprofit organizations where they get directly engaged in those issues. That's really our approach to philanthropy. It's about ensuring this valley is a strong, thriving, vibrant place for people to live. We recognize a responsibility there.
ACF: How do you partner with Aspen Community Foundation, and how do those programs serve Skico?
MH: We have a long-term partnership with ACF. We helped establish the Community Foundation. Today our Ultimate Ski Pass program is an important revenue generator for ACF. Here's how that works — a donor gives $25,000 to the Cradle to Career Initiative Fund, and to recognize their support of critical community services, they receive one of 20 available Ultimate Ski Passes donated by Aspen Skiing Co. These passes are exclusive benefits to these donors to Cradle to Career. They're available no other way. And, if all 20 passes are allocated, the program generates $500,000 for ACF.
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Additionally, our Environment Foundation has functioned as the environmental program area of the Community Foundation. So ACF provides matching support to our employee contributions for their grants, to the tune of $50,000 per year. ACF's staff members aren't part of the board, but they come to the board meetings and provide input.
Beyond that, we work very closely together, almost on a weekly basis, talking about what is happening in the community and how we tackle the issues. A great example of that was in 2011 when the Roaring Fork School District was looking at a massive shortfall in its budget. Business and community leaders and ACF came together and asked how we address that. Out of those meetings came a commitment to a mill-levy override that eventually won at the polls and raised $4.8 million a year.
ACF: The word "sustainability" refers generally to the environment, but Skico has a broader definition, correct?
MH: We define sustainability as much more than just environmental sustainability. It's about creating vibrant, thriving local communities, so when a community member encounters health challenges or economic challenges or personal challenges, there's a safety net that goes beyond what you might find elsewhere. On the flip side, sustainability means that there's more to life here than just punching a clock and working a job, that there are cultural opportunities for people, whether it's the Wheeler Opera House or Carbondale Arts or the Glenwood Center for the Arts. When we talk about sustainability, we really are thinking about community sustainability more broadly.
ACF: What's on the drawing board for Skico's sustainability department? What comes next?
MH: We've been working behind the scenes for the last six months to create the Caring for Community Fund. It's similar to the Environment Foundation, but we're trying to recognize that about half our employees don't really want to spend their dollars on environmental causes. Health and human services was an area they expressed interest in, so that's what Caring For Community will be. It'll function like the Environment Foundation with its own board. Local nonprofits will request grants and the board will decide where the biggest needs are. Skico will provide matching funds.
Tamara Tormohlen is executive director of Aspen Community Foundation.
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