Giving Thought: Colorado nonprofits are an economic dynamo

Tamara Tormohlen
Giving Thought
Aspen Community Foundation, Lauder event, Aug. 13, 2018.
Steve Mundinger

Nonprofit organizations are known for providing vital services, and this column often highlights their work in sectors such as early-childhood education, afterschool activities, the arts and human services.

But a recent report shines a light on yet another reason to support nonprofits: taken together, they form a powerful engine in Colorado’s economy.

Using data from 2017, the Colorado Association of Funders, the Colorado Nonprofit Association, Community Resource Center, Denver Office of Strategic Partnerships, Spark the Change Colorado and the University of Colorado Denver School of Public Affairs produced “Economic Contributions of Colorado’s Nonprofit Sector.” The report, released last month, demonstrates how the industry generates thousands of jobs and injects billions of dollars into the state’s economy every year.

“In 2017, it is estimated that there were more than 23,100 nonprofit organizations in the state employing nearly 190,000 jobs,” the report said. “During the year, the direct spending of these organizations added more than $20 billion to the state’s economy.”

Of Colorado’s 3.7 million jobs in 2017, the nonprofit sector accounted for 5.1 percent of overall employment, the report said. While many of those jobs are concentrated on the urbanized Front Range, nonprofits still account for as much as 17 percent of some rural counties’ workforces.

Nonprofits also harness volunteerism to add an estimated $7 billion of economic muscle. In 2017, nonprofits leveraged the volunteer equivalent of 138,000 full-time employees, who worked a total of 284 million hours, according to the report. This is tremendous value added for the state, and a testament to Colorado’s spirit of volunteerism.

The $20 billion of direct spending from the nonprofit sector represents about 5.6 percent of Colorado’s economy. In other words, the state’s nonprofits account for $56 of every $1,000 in economic activity.

“The study shows that nonprofits are important engines in the local and state economy in addition to being a force for good,” said Renny Fagan, president and CEO of the Colorado Nonprofit Association. “Donations to nonprofits are the fuel that helps to keep the engine running. For residents of Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield counties, donating to a nonprofit is truly a community investment with a significant social return.”

At Aspen Community Foundation, we’re often asked about how nonprofits contribute to the overall economy. Though its focus is statewide, this report confirms that nonprofits are an important economic driver, and that charitable contributions from individuals and institutions provide both vital services to vulnerable populations and economic stimulus across the state.

The study identifies 30-plus categories of nonprofit organizations, from animal-related to medical research to science and technology. In the state’s 19-county Northwest Region, which includes Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield counties, the heavy-hitting categories are arts, culture and humanities, education and recreation/sports. In each of those categories, there are between 200 and 300 registered nonprofits in the state’s northwest quadrant.

In the three counties that make up the Roaring Fork Valley region, nonprofits provide more than 5,000 jobs and $636 million in direct spending per year. These are big numbers, and we’re proud to be a part of all this extraordinary charitable work, which helps make Western Colorado such a great place to live.

Please join me in a shout-out to all of the region’s hardworking nonprofits and their employees and volunteers. And don’t forget to continue supporting your favorite organizations, whatever field they’re in. Your donations not only help to provide critical support to underserved populations, but also to power our state’s economy with jobs and investment.

Tamara Tormohlen is executive director of Aspen Community Foundation.