Philanthropy philosophy: County, nonprofits meet to discuss fate of funding
Uncertainty surrounding funding isn’t a new issue for Grand County’s nonprofits, which generally rely on grants, local funding and fundraisers to carry out their various missions.
However, a recent county workshop between representatives of local nonprofits and the Board of County Commissioners aimed to put some of that uncertainty to rest, at least when it comes to where the county stands and how much they are willing to pledge.
“I wanted to hold this to try and see if we could pass a resolution in the future that says the intent of this board, which should be here for two years, that this is the way we’re going to fund,” said Commissioner Rich Cimino. “The one thing I did want to accomplish (…) is at least some uncertainty is removed a little bit.”
Historically, the county has funded nonprofits through block grants and intergovernmental agreements at an average of $456,300 each year based on county data from the last 10 years. From 2012 until 2017, nonprofits would submit applications to the Grand Foundation, which would bring them to the county to make decisions in a workshop.
Then in 2017, the county identified health and human services and educational projects as the top priority for nonprofit funding and the Grand Foundation took over the responsibility for disseminating funds using a committee representative of the entire county and criteria given by the commissioners.
“Over all the years we have been facilitating the block grants, the lens has definitely tightened over the years, where the scope was more broad and there were five areas of coverage beyond health and human services and education,” said Megan Ledin, executive director of the Grand Foundation. “Each one of (the nonprofits) play a vital role in our community and sometimes, when you’re held to the criteria of health and human services or education, it can be quite limiting.”
Several representatives of local nonprofits emphasized the importance of local funding to their missions because many grant applications require the nonprofits to show community support and buy-in for their missions and projects.
“As I continue to talk to funders (…), the first question I’m asked, and usually I even have to submit a form, is how is your community supporting you,” said Helen Sedlar, executive director of Mountain Family Center. “They specifically do ask for the towns and the county, at what level are they supporting your organization?”
One form of funding the commissioners discussed at the meeting is a special sales tax, similar to the .3 percent sales tax for funding open lands, rivers and trails projects that voters passed in 2016.
Cimino said he originally thought one goal of the tax could be to replace the county’s line item funding for those projects, as well as provide more funding than the county could afford.
For example, the Headwaters Trails Alliance received anywhere from $30,000 to $48,000 per year from 2014 to 2017 before the tax, but received $237,671 in 2018 from a combination of open lands, rivers and trails grants and county block grants.
“While I think still the new revenue does help what were pre-existing needs before and what fundraising did before is now satisfied by some of the new money, it also, the new money, creates more projects, more work, more need,” Cimino said.
One problem with that solution, Cimino admitted, is that it might be hard to get voters to approve a tax for nonprofit funding.
Jen Fanning, executive director of the Rural Health Network, said the organization only gets 12 percent of its funding locally and about half of that comes from a fundraiser, which already has trouble getting people to donate.
“If the county chose not to fund or reduce a significant amount of funding, then other nonprofits would go out and start more fundraisers, which is a problem because we already have how many fundraisers here in our community,” Fanning asked. “It’s hard to get people to donate.”
She also noted that stable funding provides nonprofits with the ability to invest in infrastructure, endowments and expanding their services, instead of living in a “starvation cycle,” where the majority of the money goes directly to projects and the rest covers costs.
And as state funding for nonprofits decline, more entities are turning to the county to provide that reliable funding, explained Maegan Lokteff, executive director at Grand Beginnings.
“We have a state legislature who is turning to all of you as county commissioners and saying you’re supposed to be picking up this bill, so I think there needs to be some consideration for what’s going on at the state level,” Lokteff said.
Lokteff also urged the commissioners to be vocal to state representatives about the importance of state money for local nonprofits so they continue to support the missions that play vital roles in the county.
Another suggestion that was made by the executive director for the Grand County Historical Association Shanna Ganne is to consider alternating which organizations receive priority under the block grant system, so that nonprofits that fall outside of the health or education realm can still receive support.
After the discussions, the commissioners agreed that they need to provide clarity on the county’s philanthropy philosophy and planned to create a resolution to do so. However, what the resolution will say regarding nonprofit funding remains unclear.
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