Roaring Fork Valley nonprofits doing the recession dance |

Roaring Fork Valley nonprofits doing the recession dance

John StroudGlenwood Springs correspondentAspen, CO Colorado
Kelley Cox/Post IndependentTeacher Maurine Taufer instructs the Dance Dudes class for young boys on Tuesday at the Glenwood Springs Center for the Arts, a popular nonprofit organization.

GLENWOOD SPRINGS Gayle Mortell is used to pinching pennies and operating on a shoestring budget, as is any director of a community nonprofit organization.Were going on the austerity program this year, said Mortell, executive director of the Glenwood Springs Center for the Arts. If we can do without Post-it notes, well do it, thats how serious we are.Shes not alone in the nonprofit world which, along with for-profit businesses, is taking a financial hit during the current economic recession as donors cut back on giving and the pool of public funding and private foundation grants becomes even more shallow.It is a very sobering time, said Skye Skinner, executive director of Compass, the Woody Creek-based education organization that operates the public charter Carbondale Community and Aspen Community schools, as well as the Early Learning Center preschool.Compass operates on a July to June fiscal year, so these next few months will be critical, she said, especially since fundraising to date is down about 50 percent.Thats significant for us, Skinner said. What were finding is that our participation rates are very high, but people are having to give at much lesser levels, which I totally understand.Very few nonprofits have much in the way of reserves, she added. We are definitely having to take a very cautious look at our fiscal realities on a daily and weekly basis to determine how we should proceed.We are reducing costs wherever we can, and were trying very hard to keep those reductions away from staff and students.YouthZone, which provides services throughout Garfield County for at-risk youth and their families, is seeing the effects of the economic downturn on several fronts.We are seeing that we have a lot more debt, with people not paying fees and telling us that they cant afford to pay, said YouthZone Executive Director Debbie Wilde. But thats part of the balance we have to keep. We cant keep going down that trail (of money not coming in), but we also dont want people to not have our services. Thats the dilemma for a nonprofit.

Many local nonprofit organizations finished 2008 in good shape, some even surpassing the previous years fundraising levels.Community radio station KDNK in Carbondale managed to reach its membership drive goal of $50,000 in October, just as the stock markets were taking a big tumble.The Aspen Community Foundation (ACF) serves as a funding resource for some 200 or so nonprofit health and human service, education and arts/culture organizations from Aspen to Parachute. It actually saw an increase in its annual giving for 2008, from about $500,000 in a typical year to a total of $725,000 last year, according to ACF Executive Director Tamara Tormohlen.There is an amazing outpouring of generosity in this valley, and people want to support the things that are near and dear to them, Tormohlen said.Certainly, that positions us well to be able to maintain the level of grant making we have done in the past, she said.Many donors are giving more strategically, which can benefit organizations like the Community Foundation.People want their money to go where its most needed, and they see that the foundation is singularly poised to assess the needs of the community and address them with immediacy, Tormohlen said.Much of the trepidation heading into the new year has to do with taking a wait-and-see approach that hinges on how soon the economy recovers.Everyones a little afraid right now, Mortell said. But the last two years have been really good for us, so were optimistic that this year will be good, too.The Glenwood Arts Center does not rely too heavily on grants, instead receiving a majority of its revenue from tuition for its various youth and adult classes, and from special events for which it charges admission.Where Mortell said she is seeing some impact is in the way people are adjusting their personal budgets and spending less on things that arent essential.A lot of parents who would register students for, say, four classes, are registering for just two or three instead, she said. Class registration is down some, but not that much. Last year we had a record year, so its hard to compare.

Individual and business donations, which is another main source of revenue for many nonprofit organizations, is one of the bigger areas of concern as people pull back on their charitable giving.Like many nonprofit organizations, the Carbondale Council on Arts and Humanities board of directors sent out a year-end letter to members and others who have given in the past, as thats when many people make their big charitable donations for tax purposes.Its also a chance for organizations to make a case for why they should be given consideration amid the long list of other organizations also vying for money.We pointed out that our CCAH has a direct, positive impact on the quality of life here in Carbondale and throughout the Roaring Fork Valley, said CCAH Executive Director Ro Mead.Our mission is to enhance the creative life of the Carbondale community, she said, pointing to CCAH signature events such as the Carbondale Mountain Fair, the Summer of Music series and the First Fridays art walks.These events bring people to Carbondale from all over the country, and they benefit restaurants, hotels, shops and sales revenue, Mead said. We provide a quality of entertainment and art not usually found in small towns.Still, when donors tighten their wallets, its hard to compare arts and entertainment to the needs of human service organizations during tough times, she said.So many people are hurting, and people who have any money to give are giving it to Feed My Sheep and LIFT-UP [local homeless and poverty relief agencies], instead of our organizations, Mead said.I really think well be OK, she said. We are going to do more events and more fundraisers. And were so used to doing everything for free, we may have to start charging for stuff.

Former Carbondale Valley Journal reporter Trina Ortega contributed to this

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