Aspen nonprofits celebrating a good year |

Aspen nonprofits celebrating a good year

ASPEN – When Helen Ward, executive director of the Aspen Education Foundation, opened an envelope in mid-December, she expected to find a small donation from a couple that had just left her office. The man and woman, who do not have school-age children, had heard about the local school district’s budget woes from a neighborhood kid and decided to learn more; after doing so, they left the envelope.

“It was a check for $30,000. We just couldn’t believe it,” Ward said this week. “And what a great message – to realize the need without even having kids in the schools and to take action.

“It’s just a wonderful gift to us all.”

AEF, which is the Aspen School District’s nonprofit fundraising arm, finds itself in a similar place as many local nonprofits as New Year’s Day rolls around: People are giving more than they were deep in the recession, but the demand for help is greater than before.

“We are seeing increased giving, which is wonderful. But the need is bigger than ever,” said Tamara Tormohlen, executive director of the Aspen Community Foundation, which gives grants to some 60 nonprofit organizations annually. “But the good news is, people are continuing to dig deep and give what they can. Especially in our valley.”

The trend mirrors what’s happening nationally. According to The Chronicle of Philanthropy, one out of five of the 152 organizations surveyed by the national magazine said contributions are outpacing last year’s donations by 20 percent or more.

Plus, Aspen is a different type of community in many ways when it comes to philanthropy.

Jamie Kravitz, development associate at the Aspen Writers’ Foundation, said most large donors have continued to give, and some have even increased their support. The Aspen Music Festival and School also saw increased giving in certain areas – most notably, a group of about 25 donors who “significantly increased their giving,” according to music festival CEO Alan Fletcher, who added that the organization ended 2011 in the black but is planning conservatively for 2012.

Yet, like the increased generosity this year, Aspen is following the nation in another way: Demand is growing, with no end in sight.

“The reality is, some people are in worse shape now than when the recession hit. They’ve been holding on, but have nothing left,” said Tormohlen, whose Aspen Community Foundation works with many local health and human-services organizations. “This is the time, even though it may feel like we’re coming out of the dark, that we – as a community – really need to come together.”

Thus the reason nonprofit representatives reiterate the importance of all gifts – no matter how small.

“We are really lucky to have such an incredible and supportive board, and some major donors who are so great to us, but we need everyone to be involved,” Kravitz said. “Those small gifts from community members really go a long way. I don’t think people realize just how important their $10, $20, $50 is.”

Tormohlen agreed: “People think their small gift doesn’t really matter, so they don’t give. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

“Every dollar counts. It’s more than just the money; it’s about taking care of each other in any way we can.”

In fact, Ward noted, if AEF received a donation of $100 for every child in the Aspen School District, it would put approximately $170,000 directly into school coffers. And with more budget cuts looming, and teachers’ jobs likely on the line, those dollars could make a huge difference.

“We’re talking about teachers … people who make a difference in our kids’ lives every day,” she said, adding AEF’s recent Flamingo 500 fundraiser brought in around $300,000, but the organization’s goal of raising $800,000 by the end of the school year remains an ongoing challenge.

“I think the message is, it’s still an uphill battle for all nonprofits.”

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