Aspen nonprofit fights through recession
December 23, 2008
ASPEN ” The jaw-dropping views of Aspen Mountain are no longer to be had for the depleted staff at Aspen Center for Integral Health.
Shelling out $3,600 a month in rent for third-floor space in the Alpine Bank building, located in downtown Aspen, became hard to justify in these lean economic times, said Michele Leuck, the center’s executive director. So the nonprofit slashed 75 percent off of its rent ” to a more frugal $900 a month ” by relocating this week to the seemingly modest confines of the Design Workshop building on Main Street.
When Leuck took the reins about a year and a half ago, the organization had four full-time members. Now it’s down to two ” Leuck and Kathy Yang, who is manager of development. Leuck did not refill one position when an employee left at the end of the summer, and in October she cut a full-time staffer from the payroll.
“It’s devastating,” Leuck said. “It doesn’t matter how large or small [the layoff is], it’s demoralizing.”
Another casualty was the James Bond Gala, the nonprofit’s glitzy fundraiser that was historically staged at The St. Regis Aspen and the Caribou Club over Presidents Day weekend.
Leuck conceded that the event was “over the top.” And with a cost of nearly $200,000 just to put it on, Aspen Center for Integral Health board members weren’t confident that the upcoming gala would break even. Individual tickets to last year’s event commanded $400, while the price for a table ranged from $4,000 to $25,000.
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Likewise, there were worries about the public perception generated from such a decadent event staged in the throes of an economic crisis trumped only by the Great Depression.
“There was concern about how it would look in these economic times,” Leuck said.
Relocating the nonprofit, attrition and layoffs, and nixing the fundraiser gala are just a few ways Aspen Center for Integral Health is looking to trim costs.
“Everything is on the table, and nothing is out of the question,” Leuck said, noting the that the nonprofit has tried to renegotiate such expenses as the lease on its copy machines and its telephone and Internet service.
In Aspen, which is home to some 300 nonprofit organizations, the recession has spawned brainstorming sessions on how to stay afloat, including one last week that was sponsored by the Aspen Community Foundation and Executive Service Corps.
“It still too early to tell what the impact will be,” Paul Menter, of the Aspen Community Foundation, said last week. “But there’s a general amount of fear out there because of the uncertainty.”
Aspen Center for Integral Health has a modest outlook for 2009. According to Leuck, the budget is estimated to be between $600,000 and $700,000. The organization’s 2007 Form 990 tax return, filed in August, reported revenue of $743,786, compared to total expenses of $780,370, meaning it operated in a deficit of $36,584. In fact, the nonprofit has not been profitable “in the last few years,” Leuck said.
Leuck noted that generally speaking, the sour economy has prompted donors to put their money toward critical needs and health and human services, as opposed to arts organizations or think tanks such as Aspen Center for Integral Health.
For Leuck, that means emphasizing the importance of the nonprofit and its relevance within the community.
“One of things I’m working on is what kind of message we need to bring,” she said. “What message do you sell?”
According to its Form 990, the organization’s mission statement reads: “Educating doctors, health professionals, patients and the public on validated integrative healing therapies, on cutting edge prevention programs, and on the effects of the environment on health and illness.”
To that end, Leuck noted: “We need to talk about why Aspen Center for Integral Health matters.”
Leuck said she hopes a February speaker series punctuates the organization’s relevance. The series will include the likes of Zeke Emanuel, a bioethicist at the National Institutes of Health who will be aiding the Obama administration in its effort to build the national health care system. He’s also the brother of Rahm Emanuel, the incoming White House chief of staff.
Other slated speakers include Dr. Jim Gordon, who chaired the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy under the Clinton administration; Dr. Mark Liponis, the executive director of Canyon Ranch Health Resorts; and Dr. Mark Hyman, the editor in chief of Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine.
Additionally, there’s the second annual Women’s Health Conference: Sex, Sleep, and Self in March, along with other programs that the Aspen Center for Integral Health will help facilitate.
And with the James Bond Gala scrapped from the calendar, Leuck said Aspen Center for Integral Health will still stage a fundraiser this year, but it will be of the low-key version.
“It will be modest and on a smaller scale,” she said. “It will be less visible and more personal.”
But despite the tweaking and renewed focus, Leuck said she feels optimistic about the organization’s future.
“There are short-term, tactical things we need to get through,” she said. “But we have a robust reserve [of $500,000].”