Summit County nonprofits creatively weather economic storm
summit daily news
SUMMIT COUNTY – When the Summit Prevention Alliance lost large state and federal grants, its staff got creative. And with a 2009-10 budget overspent by $100,000, they had to.
“We didn’t get several big grants we thought we were going to get,” said the new Summit Prevention Alliance (SPA) executive director Kari Read. “The financial crisis is affecting everything.”
After all its cuts, Summit Prevention Alliance’s 2010-11 operating budget is $384,200, down from $606,000 last year.
The Summit Prevention Alliance, a community-based nonprofit, is dedicated to promoting healthy lifestyles in Summit County. It works on everything from healthy eating to discouraging substance abuse, and its most recent project is Nancy’s Community Garden – three greenhouses recently built by the Summit County Community and Senior Center to grow food for seniors and low-income locals. It’s also being used to produce vegetables to sell around the county.
Read said SPA had to go through every aspect of its finances “with a fine-toothed comb,” like its programs, staff, even its office location. In the end, SPA decided to let one support staffer go, it froze its salaries to 2008 levels, it moved locations, it made hard decisions about the importance of certain programs, and it even changed its phone system.
“We streamlined everything we could,” Read said. “We were able to make up the difference.”
According to Read, funding took a nose dive for SPA’s 2009-10 budget because most of the organization’s finances were coming from various government entities. Individual donations plummeted as well.
The Colorado Department of Transportation largely funded SPA’s work on drunk-driving prevention. Now that $100,000 grant is totally gone, Read said. SPA also lost another $100,000 federal grant from the Center for Substance Abuse and Prevention, and a state grant from the Law Enforcement Assistance Fund.
“They’re certainly cutting back in government,” Read said. “A lot of it was in substance abuse prevention. That’s what’s taking a hit in the economy.”
Another part of SPA’s shortfall was a lack of individual donations last year.
“We think the economy has hit everyone really hard,” Read said. “Individuals have been hit pretty hard. That’s definitely a piece of where the $100,000 comes from as well.”
Because SPA’s school programming is its most important project area, Read is working hard to make sure that’s maintained.
“Core messages will stay at middle school and high school,” Read said. “There will be less advertising in the newspaper. It’s more important to be in the schools.”
Read also noted that main school messages are about alcohol consumption and tobacco.
“We want both middle school and high school students to know that it’s not the majority of students who are drinking on a regular basis,” she added. “Most kids are saying ‘no,’ and they just don’t know that.”
To keep school programs at their best, Read took a hard look at other organization projects to see what’s slowing down and what could go.
“We did have media campaigns for drunk-driving prevention,” Read said. “We just don’t have the dollars for that anymore. That’s going to be gone.”
On top of reducing certain programs, SPA has also been able to drum up more funding through other foundations, particularly for healthy eating and active living. A grant from the Colorado Health Foundation for $54,000 will fund their produce project.
Now, one of Read’s big goals for 2010-11 is “to find a core of committed volunteers to help with support staff functions. That will really allow program staff to dream bigger.”
“When we’re all doing support staff things to keep the office running, we don’t get to think big,” Read said. “We need to free up their time.”
In the meantime, the Summit Prevention Alliance will continue to write grants and find ways for people to get excited about helping out with its various healthy living programs.
Numerous local nonprofits – not just SPA – and social service groups have felt the financial pinch over the past few years. But, they too are coming up with ways to weather the storm. Two groups, the Summit Community Care Clinic and the Family and Intercultural Resource Center, have been particularly stressed by need and funding deficiencies.
“Obviously it’s been a challenging couple of years,” said Family and Intercultural Resource Center (FIRC) executive director Tamara Drangstveit. “An increase in need is our biggest challenge. It’s not just been about maintaining our current funding. We’ve also had to find new funding.”
And with a 400 percent increase at FIRC’s food bank, not to mention increases in emergency services across the board, that takes money.
Drangstveit said she’s been aggressive in pursuing funding options, and its thrift store has been helpful in creating extra money.
“We’ve really relied on the Summit County community, and we’ve increased individual donor requests,” Drangstveit said. “The community really stepped up with individual contributions.”
Drangstveit also said she attributes more individual contributions to the fact that FIRC assists with basic-needs issues.
“In recessions, people start to focus on the basics,” she said. “The community understands the necessity of providing a net.”
Though FIRC has seen cuts in its state and federal funding as well, it’s been able to cope more easily than SPA because it has 41 different funders. Even so, its budget is not growing. It’s stayed consistent at $1.7 million.
“We have met a lot of gaps using stimulus money,” Drangstveit said. “Most of that money ends this fall. Winter will be hard to fill in that gap.”
Other funding entities – such as Vail Resorts ECHO and The Summit Foundation – have been working hard to fill funding holes within local organizations.
“We’re grateful for all that support,” Drangstveit said. “We’ll meet the need as it continues to grow. All that said, we’ve now seen an increase in our services for 18 months, and it’s getting harder to meet the need.”
SPA and FIRC aren’t the only nonprofits in Colorado to see decreases in funding and/or increases in program need. But in general, Colorado organizations are figuring out ways to sustain themselves under financial shortfalls.
“Nonprofits are creative and tenacious by nature,” said Renny Fagan, president of the Colorado Nonprofit Association. “Many are finding ways to sustain their missions.”
According to research done by the Colorado Nonprofit Association, the recession has continued to cause widespread declines in revenues for many organizations, but the state’s nonprofits “have responded resiliently to these formidable challenges.” Some nonprofits are cutting expenses or dipping into reserves, while others are increasing fundraising efforts and collaborating with other groups to share administrative and program costs.
SDN reporter Caitlin Row can be reached at (970) 668-4633 or at email@example.com.
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