Caitlin Row

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July 26, 2012
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Local nonprofits see continued success through the recession

Recession. That word can mean a variety of things - unemployment, lower wages and debt to name a few. For nonprofit organizations relying heavily on fundraising efforts and grants, a nationwide recession created holes in their budgets, too.

Luckily, many Grand Junction nonprofits found creative ways to weather the storm and in many cases have come out on top. Here are four success stories.

In 2008, Roice-Hurst Humane Society almost shut its doors.

"(It) was an awful year for us," Roice-Hurst Humane Society donor relations coordinator Julia Hall said. "We asked the community to help us stay open, and since then we have become amazing stewards of our resources."

With almost $500,000 budgeted annually now and no debt to speak of, there's a lot to be proud of, Hall said. And in June 2011, the shelter moved to its new digs near Mesa County's landfill.

"It's our biggest success story," Hall said of the move. "Our shelter used to be in Clifton and it wasn't conducive for donors and animals. We were able to swap property with the county for the old animal control shelter. ... The atmosphere is better there."

All property renovations were donated by Mark DeWolfe, she added, and 21 companies gave supplies to help fix the aging structure.

"Our one-year anniversary just happened," Hall said. "We never take any of this for granted. We are just so lucky that people care about animals. It's been a really good year."

To support an increasing need for animal assistance in Grand Junction, Hall said she's working hard to create new funding strategies and local collaborations. Positive advertising messages, face-to-face communication, personalized thank-yous and partnerships have all contributed to recent fundraising success.

Adoptions are also up by 30 percent, which helps bring in donations as well, she noted.

Mesa County Partners, a local nonprofit with programs focused on at-risk youths, changed its funding strategies twice in 10 years. And now its budget is bigger than ever. In 2008, its full budget was $1.6 million. Its budget now reaches $2.3 million.

Partners Executive Director Joe Higgins said access to state and federal dollars decreased first in 2002 after 9/11, and then again in 2008 when the recession hit. And funding for its restitution and community service work program was impacted the most.

According to Higgins, youths in the restitution program pay back up $120,000 or more each year to victims. Ten years ago, it was commonplace for restitution-program work crews to do free community service projects throughout Mesa County. It was then supplemented by "a pot of money" provided by grants. Now, the program survives mostly on fee-for-service work, especially since it no longer receives federal dollars as a cushion.

"We raise about $100,000 a year in fee-for-service work," Higgins said. "Ten years ago, we did only $10,000 a year or less."

With the recession's major hit in 2008, Higgins said foundation giving to Partners also suffered. To make up for lost funds, the Partners board of directors took a multi-pronged approach.

In 2007, they saw "the writing on the wall" and reduced the nonprofit's staff by four. They also worked hard to increase private donations, sought out new funding avenues, and created an endowment fund which now totals $670,000.

"The board of directors really took that on," Higgins said. "We went from $35-$40,000 in private individual donations, and we're now at $80,000. Over the last three years, we've doubled the amount of private individual donations. It has helped to keep us flat, when we lost foundation and federal dollars."

The Western Colorado Conservation Corps (WCCC) - a Partners program focused on education and training for youths interested in conservation efforts - also added a big bump to the nonprofit's overall budget. Funds budgeted for the WCCC went from $700,000 (in 2008) to $1.5 million (today), Higgins said. It's funded heavily by fee-for-service work.

A strong base of volunteers is additionally needed for the continued success of Partners programming, Higgins noted. Male volunteers for the Partners mentoring program are currently being sought.

CLAWS president Valerie Mazrin said funding and volunteer efforts have only grown for CLAWS, or the Cat's League and Assistance of the Western Slope. It started five years ago, with a start-up donation of $6,000. And last year, fundraising efforts covered $72,000 in operation expenses.

"We just take care of the cats," she said. "There's so many cats that need help, and they depend on the good hearts of everyone."

Medical expenses for homeless cats reach $6-$10,000 a month, Mazrin said. CLAWS currently supports hundreds of cats, and it has partnerships with Chow Down Pet Supplies, PetSmart and Petco to name a few. A variety of kitties is available for adoption through the CLAWS shelter (2214 Sanford Drive, #A5), and its partnering organizations. The shelter is only open by appointment.

While Mazrin said individual donations have seen a drop, "we still have people who support us every single month. I do think that our volunteer grant committee is working harder because we're short on individual donations."

Grant funding has grown over the years, and there's more help out there in terms of spays and neuters, she added. It does help that CLAWS is completely run by volunteers, and every cent donated goes directly to the animals.

"If anything, we seem to get more volunteers just because of the absence of work in other places," Mazrin said. "We never have too many."

Over a five-year period, United Way of Mesa County executive director Julie Hinkson said her fundraising efforts have stayed well above water. The local chapter was founded in 1959, and it funds health and human service programs throughout the area. It relies heavily on campaigns, individual donors and more than 300 volunteers for its continued success.

According to Hinkson, United Way's local efforts have raised about $1.1 million each year, for the last five years. And she hasn't seen a significant upward or downward trend in giving, despite a down economy.

"It means that we've been able to keep our investment in local health and human service programs level, which is why we do what we do," Hinkson said. " ... It's a real testament to the generosity of a community that $1.1 million remains the average."

United Way is different from many local nonprofits because it's a "funder," she added. And money is brought in through workplace campaigns, special events and direct-mail campaigns.

"The workplace campaign is our meat and potatoes," she said. "(It) generates 83 percent of our funds."

And while some participating companies may have gone out of business, Hinkson said new businesses have come in to pick up the slack.

"At the end of the day, it's stayed fairly level," she said.

Individual donations reaching $500 or more are up in quantity, too.

"Before there were more donors, with a lesser average money gift," she said.

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The Post Independent Updated Jul 26, 2012 04:42PM Published Jul 26, 2012 04:34PM Copyright 2012 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.