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Tough times hit Colorado charities hard

Kristen Wyatt
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER ” Nonprofits in Colorado with a mission of helping those in need could use a little assistance themselves.

Swamped with requests for help even as donors and corporate sponsors have snapped their wallets shut in an ever-deepening recession, hundreds of Colorado charities fear for their own futures.

In a survey released Monday by the Colorado Nonprofit Association, 762 charities in 57 Colorado counties cited economic worries similar to those faced by businesses. Declining income. Difficulty borrowing money. Staff cuts and reduced services. A few of them, 4.2 percent, said they didn’t know if they’d survive 2009.



The charities convened a two-day summit this week in Denver to talk about strategies for survival.

“We’re in some very challenging times, economically. We all know that. And the people we serve know it better,” said Gary Smith, a professor at Regis University in Denver who oversees the school’s graduate studies in nonprofit management.




Among the findings:

– More than half of the nonprofits (51.8 percent) said the recession hurt fundraising efforts.

– More than a third (38.5 percent) said the economic downturn has had a negative effect on their ability to serve clients.

– More than one in five (20.5 percent) described themselves as very unprepared or somewhat unprepared for the recession.

– More than a fourth (27.9 percent) have frozen staff wages, with 8.6 percent reporting layoffs.

– Most nonprofits reported declines in donations, from corporate sponsors and deep-pocket patrons cutting off funds to fewer people buying tickets to charity fundraisers.

It’s a daunting time even for organization used to working on a shoestring.

“There is a lot of anxiety about what cuts to make,” said Gabriel Guillame, executive director with the Community Resource Center, which helped with the survey.

And as dollars stop flowing to charities, clients in need are multiplying.

“We have a lot more demand for our services ” emergency food, clothing, shelter, the whole range of what we do,” said Mark Kling, executive director of the Denver-based Family Resource Center Association, an independent ant-poverty charity with 24 offices in Colorado. “At the same time, a lot of funders are not taking on new projects rights now. They’re supporting people they already know.”

About 250 people gathered for the nonprofit summit planned two days of meetings on turning things around. They held sessions on finding new donors, surviving the loss of a major donor, even a session on how to lay off staff if necessary.

On a purple bulletin board in the rear of the room, charities scribbled notes on their needs in a sort of informal swap meet to share resources.

“This is time for us to try new things, to innovate,” Guillame said. “This is a time for us to be clever, to change how we do it.”

There was also plenty of talk about boosting morale, both among people who work for charities and the downtrodden people coming to them for help.

“It’s easy to get negative, but a positive outlook is what you can give your donors, and that’s what you need to be doing,” said Ann Marie Bliley, development associate for the Rocky Mountain Nature Association in Estes Park.


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