Giving Thought: More than 20 years of connection over competition

Allison Alexander is the Director Strategic Partnerships and Communication at Aspen Community Foundation. ACF with the support of its donors works with a number of nonprofits in the Roaring Fork and Colorado River valleys. Throughout the year, we will work to highlight nonprofits in the region.
Allison Alexander/Courtesy photo

If you have spent a summer in Aspen, you might be aware of the whirlwind of social events that rapidly fill calendars and extra hours of daylight. For many regional non-profits, the summer is also a time for hosting their largest fundraisers and donor connection events. There are around 300 non-profits in the Aspen to Parachute region and while not all host events, many rely on these events for meeting their annual fundraising goals capitalizing on incredible weather and summer residents’ attention.

As winter started its descent upon our region, we are again reminded that there are a limited number of summer days. For local non-profits, there is a lot of work happening behind the scenes to coordinate not only summer, fundraising event dates, but also year round events and education sessions. Fortunately, development directors and staff in our region have found a way to support each other in simplifying this exercise by coming together as a collaborative group known as DEVO.

Founded in 2002 by Judy Clausen, formerly the director of advancement at Anderson Ranch, the group has supported development staff for over two decades. What began as a project of the Roaring Fork Leadership program has evolved to meet the needs of those working to support our community’s nonprofits, including managing a shared calendar of planned events to avoid conflicts that might be created by hosting events targeting the same group on the same date.

According to Christy Mahon, Development Director at Aspen Center for Environmental Studies (ACES) and previous DEVO leader, “The intention was to bring together the Development Directors of our valley’s non-profits, so they knew each other and could work collaboratively in a way that would benefit not only their organizations, but also everybody else. We started a shared calendar to ensure we didn’t plan fundraising events on the same dates, which our donors appreciated as well. It has also provided a network for local fundraisers and ongoing professional development.”

Since 2017, Micheala Idhammar-Keptura, executive director of Aspen Youth Center, has been leading DEVO. Having an executive director helping to direct regional development efforts illustrates just one of many ways that our non-profit leaders are collaborative and committed to stewarding not only their own organization, but also to a collective region of healthy nonprofits

Now, Idhammar-Keptura is stepping down from DEVO leadership and a new model is being explored by the group.

“DEVO has been so helpful in understanding development especially in our very unique valley. I’ve built wonderful relationships and been honored to lead it after Judy and Christy, but I am excited to see where it goes moving forward. When I started, I think we had 120 member emails, and we are now over 200 development and non-profit professionals,” she said.

To begin exploring a new DEVO leadership model, about 20 non-profits met this week at a meeting held at the Art Base in Basalt. Together, the group explored what is needed to continue to support development professionals and ultimately our regional non-profit ecosystem. Development leaders from Challenge Aspen, Aspen Art Museum, English in Action, Action in Africa, and Aspen Community Foundation stepped in to take on various tasks to move the group forward with the intention of lifting each other up in a collaborative model with shared leadership.

DEVO does not solely focus its attention on events, but also shares job opportunities, shares resources, and offers support to its members in roles that can often experience burnout. By creating space for shared knowledge and connection, the group provides a space where peers can not only share best practices and grow professionally, but also support each other in the day to day challenges.

“Development officers often have a strong passion for the causes they support as a team. While this passion can be motivating, it may also lead to employees working long hours, taking on too much responsibility, and feeling stressed. DEVO offers a welcoming and open space for all of us to support one another so that we can continue to serve our community and be successful in our roles,” shared Mahon.

Collaborative efforts and connections reduce burdens on individuals and create space for deeper impact by freeing up capacity to focus on the mission of organizations rather than gathering data in a piecemeal way.

Granting organizations and philanthropists are starting to realize the value of collaboration for capacity building, as well. Last week, Pitkin County’s Citizen’s Grant Review Committee awarded three partnership grants of $100,000 to Aspen Family Connections and Aspen Youth Center, The Farm Collaborative and LIFT-UP, and Raising a Reader and Focused Kids with the intention of expanding capacity and outreach.

Beyond collaborative grants, donations, and support for non-profits made without restrictions can also be used to support participation and leadership in collaborative efforts like DEVO that bolster the ecosystem in broader ways.

After 20 years of connection and collaboration, the importance of community has been proven with DEVO. While the group cannot guarantee your summer calendar will be any less hectic, they do try to ensure you will not have to pick supporting one incredible organization over another.