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Money matters

Times are tough. We see the signs daily in newspaper headlines, vacant storefronts and slumping tourist numbers.

But what about our local nonprofits, those organizations dedicated to making Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley a better place to live? How are they weathering the storm?

“The health of our local nonprofits has been greatly affected by the economy … it’s been a rough few years,” said Ellen Freedman, executive director of the Aspen Valley Community Foundation, a nonprofit organization that granted $1.3 million to 70 valleywide nonprofits in 2002.



According to Freedman, nonprofits are suffering, in part, because the pool of money available to them has dwindled. Government funding has been slashed, even disbanded in some sectors; foundations have seen their assets decline, thus limiting the number of grants they can make; and individuals, no matter how wealthy, have been forced to scale back their charitable contributions.

The result? “More nonprofits are asking for an increasingly limited number of dollars,” said Steve Graham, executive director of the Denver-based Colorado Resource Center, which provides technical assistance and other types of support to nonprofits across the state.




Still, the big picture is not all that grim, according to those with their finger on the pulse of Colorado’s and the Roaring Fork Valley’s nonprofits.

“Fortunately, we haven’t seen a lot of nonprofits go out of business,” said Freedman, noting she can’t think of one that has shut its doors entirely due to economic reasons “But they have had to look at how they’re structured, how they do their fund raising, and we’ve definitely seen program cuts.”

CRC’s Graham agrees. “Nonprofits have been affected by the economy’s downturn in a variety of ways,” he said. “But it’s also provided many opportunities for nonprofits.”

In fact, many nonprofits are not only surviving, they’re thriving or, at the very least, building a better future for themselves and their constituents.

“What we’re seeing are nonprofits doing a much better job of running an organization than in the past,” said Graham. “They’re building a solid community base by making themselves a necessary and solvent part of the community. They’re proving that they do contribute, and that they are a good place to invest.”

This holds true in the Roaring Fork Valley – but that doesn’t mean it’s been easy to stay afloat.

“When times are tough, nonprofits have to get creative. They have to think of ways of doing business that they’ve never thought of before,” said Freedman. “But we have a great number of creative people working for our nonprofits who’ve risen to the challenge. They’re thinking more entrepreneurially than they ever have before.”

In addition to generating more fund-raising schemes and charging for previously free services (which isn’t always a bad thing, notes Freedman, as it helps create “ownership” in those services), nonprofits have had to think outside the box when it comes to cutting expenses, creating budgets, relying on boards of directors and planning for the long haul.

“The healthiest nonprofits are the ones that go beyond their mission,” said Graham. “And the ones that diversify their funding sources.”

Diversity, agrees Freedman, is perhaps the most obvious reason some nonprofits are flourishing while others are floundering.

“Having all your eggs in one basket is a very dangerous place to be … that’s what the past few years have shown us,” she said.

With all of this in mind, The Aspen Times decided to take an in-depth look at the health of our valley’s nonprofits.

Since there are some 200 nonprofits from Aspen to Parachute, profiling them all would be impossible. Rather, we selected a diverse group of organizations – representing the arts, health and human services, youth, sports, and the environment – that are doing something right, whether it be diversifying funding, creating new fund-raising opportunities, or upping the quality of their offerings.

What follows are their survival stories.


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