This was the year that Shalelia Dillard wanted to hire more staffers to expand her program that supports students of color taking advanced classes. Heather Korth planned to focus more on fundraising for a nonprofit that helps families who’ve lost their homes in fires.
Now, Dillard’s SCD Enrichment Program and Our Front Porch, founded by Korth and Maggie Babyak, are struggling like other nonprofits across Colorado to stay afloat as the immediate needs caused by the coronavirus pandemic have captured the public’s attention and donations.
“We’ve tried to apply for a lot of grants. Pretty much every funding source has changed the focus to COVID-19,” Korth said.
She and Dillard said they understand the urgency of addressing the pandemic. But Korth said organizations like hers are wrestling with ongoing needs and demands that in some cases are aggravated by the crisis.
“Everyone’s focused on COVID, as they should be,” Korth said, “but other things are happening on a daily basis that we don’t talk about.”
The picture of the economic toll on Colorado’s nonprofits should become more clear as the year goes on, said Renny Fagan, president and CEO of the Colorado Nonprofit Association. Nonprofits are experiencing the same problems other businesses are, he added. If they provided in-person services and couldn’t shift to online, such as arts and theater programs, they’re losing money.
Organizations that rely on big events to boost their income have had to cancel or postpone them or try to go virtual. Those that depend on volunteers might be short handed as people have stayed home to avoid exposure to the virus.
COVID-19 relief funds generally went to organizations serving people immediately affected by the pandemic, Fagan said. “Now, those funds and communities are turning toward, ‘Well, what about the other nonprofits that are still very important to the fabric of our community’s life.’”
Although the overwhelming majority of Colorado’s approximately 23,000 nonprofits are fairly small — with annual budgets under $500,000 — their economic contributions are big, according to a 2017 report. The organizations added more than $20 billion to the state’s economy in 2017, measured by gross regional product, employed nearly 190,000 people and accounted for 5.6% of the state’s economy based on direct spending.
“While Coloradans have been very generous in giving to these COVID relief funds, there’s a lot of uncertainty for individual families,” Fagan said. “One important message, though, is that everyone can help their community by getting involved with a nonprofit, either by volunteering or through donations. Any amount is really meaningful.”
Since starting GroundFloor Media 20 years ago in Boulder, Laura Love has participated on boards or worked with nonprofits. She created the Get Grounded Foundation in 2015 to provide grants to groups focused on at-risk youths, childhood hunger and child abuse and neglect.
“I didn’t know anyone in Colorado and when I moved here and started this business; it was really the nonprofit organizations that allowed me to get involved in this community. So, it’s been a passion of ours to support the community,” Love said.
As the pandemic has battered businesses and upended people’s lives, Love and her staff have worried about the fate of nonprofits, especially smaller ones that aren’t as well-known, aren’t necessarily on the front lines of dealing with the coronavirus and so might not have access to pandemic-related aid. GroundFloor Media set up a page on its website to highlight three to four organizations each week and put out the word on its social media channels. The website gives information about the groups and their most pressing needs.
“Within two weeks after the state-issued shelter-in-place order, we developed the Doing My Part Colorado page to get the word out,” Love said. “We sent it out to all of our nonprofit partners and all of our corporate partners.”
And the foundation started hearing from people across the state. Organizations have asked for blood donations, contributions to small food banks, diapers, money to feed and shoe horses used for therapy and volunteers. The foundation has started a podcast called “Good & Grounded” with local business and civic leaders.
The foundation promoted a summer program offered by SCD Enrichment Program, which works with Denver schools to provide support and mentoring to middle and high school students of color who are taking advanced classes. Dillard, the founder and a graduate of Denver’s South High School, said the program has received funding to pay students’ way for the summer program.
Dillard started the SCD Enrichment in 2018 after 11 years in teaching. The school-based programs grew out of interviews with students and some of Dillard’s own experiences.
“I was a gifted student from first grade on and I was typically one of the only people of color in my classes,” Dillard said. “I needed support. The misconception is that gifted students can teach themselves anything and they don’t need assistance.”
The organization offers ethnic studies, mentoring by college students and leadership training. Dillard has offered some online programs since the coronavirus broke out, but the closing of the five schools she works with meant the canceling of workshops and other revenue-raising activities. She received a disaster loan and money through a campaign launched by an organization that promotes education leaders.
“There is funding coming in. It’s just not as much as school contracts would be. It’s a thousand dollars here, $2,000 there,” Dillard said. “We’re really pinching our pennies to try to still provide services for our students and just keep afloat financially.”
Korth said Our Front Porch has seen a recent increase in new donors, which might be due to being featured by the Get Grounded Foundation.
“It all helps. There are so many great organizations out there and getting the word out is the hardest part because it costs money,” Korth said.
Korth, an architect, and her co-founder, Babyak, a licensed clinical social worker, started working in 2014 with families who lost their homes in fires. Both have extensive experience in disaster response work and saw a need for long-term help for people who have lost everything in fires.
“There’s an average of two fires a day in the Denver metro area that leave people homeless. They obviously don’t get the publicity that a wide-scale disaster would get,” Korth said.
The nonprofit hasn’t received any of the grants it recently sought to help provide assistance to families, which includes temporary housing. It is in the middle of an initiative to raise $40,000 through $20 donations.
“We’ve been super fortunate to have some really great individual donors who kept us afloat the last couple of years. This was going to be our year to really delve into fundraising,” Korth said.
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