Friday, June 19, 2009

Up to Good - Guest Commentary from Jeff Pryor on Rural Philanthropy Days

By Jeff Pryor, Executive Director of the Anscutz Family Foundation

Rural Philanthropy Days is extraordinary event filled with people up to good. Not specific to a region, but common across Colorado - the people who work in the sector are stunningly impressive. For example, we had dine-arounds in Crested Butte and at my table were people who were involved in outreach effort to Native American Tribal lands, community theatre, youth leadership development, community center/cultural center, energy efficiency and sustainability.

As each of these organizations was, for not only did they represent unique missions, but also serving different communities in Western Colorado, they had much in common - an uncertain future, challenge to find the resources to sustain efforts and the desire to make a substantial difference. As the volunteers, board members of staff of these organizations strategize about improving sustainability, they begin to explore the concept of what they can do better together than they can do separately.

It was amazing to see the opportunity for exchange - of ideas, resources, facilities, introductions. Not a person left the table without some absolute benefit from the opportunity to reach out to compatriots in other organizations and in other locations.

Yet, with all of the energy assembled in the 400 people attending the event - and representing a vital resource to the state and each community involved, there still is a reason for the sector to be more engaging and speak with a stronger unified voice. For the sector represents approximately 8% of the states gross product, 6% of the workforce and generates over 13 billion in exposure and 1 billion in leveraged dollars from outside of Colorado - and if 400 people gathered for any other event, we'd see a sea of elected officials, press and other business leaders.

We must be more deliberate in sharing the value of the work of individual nonprofits and of the sector as a whole. Strengthening our abilities will result in strong organizations, more apt to manage challenging times and more able to attract resources. I am privileged to represent the Anschutz Family Foundation and work on behalf of many foundations who invest time, money and energy into Rural Philanthropy Days-- and I know that all of the foundations are impressed with the spirit of collaboration, the strength of conviction of individual leaders and the aggregate power that was assembled in the Gunnison Valley.

Our salute goes to the amazing steering committee and to the host of volunteers and supporters who made the record breaking event possible. As the Colorado Nonprofit Association works to advocate for the sector and the Community Resource Center continues its work to build organizational capacity, there is no doubt that the sector will gain in vibrancy and vitality.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Rural Philanthropy Days: Helping Improve the Visibility of the Nonprofit Sector

Western Slope Rural Philanthropy Days is underway and going very well! We have more than 400 attendees registered, which makes this our largest Rural Philanthropy Days event since we started hosting them in 1991. Also, for this event, about 60 funders representing about 35 grantmaking organizations are in attendance. This steering committee has certainly raised the bar.

Today’s agenda is focused on community problem-solving and promoting collaboration among nonprofit organizations. I sat in on the session on strengthening the nonprofit sector and promoting cross-sector collaborations. One of the participants shared that he believes that the local government in his community views nonprofits as pests because they are always asking for money.

This belief demonstrates a significant disconnect between nonprofit organizations and governmental entities. Nonprofit organizations provide essential services in nearly all communities across Colorado. Through our organizations, our work helps strengthen a community’s social fabric, provide critical human services, and meet other important and pressing community needs.

The idea that governments view nonprofits as pests communicates two things to me. First, nonprofit organizations need to strengthen their ability to demonstrate the impact that they have in a community to help communicate the essential nature and value of their service to governments. We need to rely on a fundraising case that communicates our effectiveness, impact, and efficiency in providing essential services and programs within our communities. Second, communities of nonprofit organizations could be far more effective in communicating the overall value of the nonprofit sector to local governments, especially since many governments are getting a heck of a bargain when they invest funding with nonprofits that fill the gaps that governments cannot.

This particular group is wrestling with finding some short-term solutions that could help raise the visibility and level of understanding with businesses and governments – I am interested to hear what they think up. Rural Philanthropy Days itself is a start in this process and we will keep you posted as our follow-up activities get underway.

On Yosemite and the Colorado Nonprofit Sector - They DO Relate!

For those of you that know me, you know that I am pretty comfortable speaking to groups. I frequently conduct trainings for CRC and facilitate meetings like board retreats on almost a weekly basis. Big groups, however, scare me. Thus, I have been a little nervous about opening the morning session at Rural Philanthropy Days this morning.

So, instead of trying to find something profound to say on my own, I decided to borrow a story that I recently heard. I think it is worth repeating here because it demonstrates one of the points I always stress when working with my nonprofit consulting clients and other community groups – collaboration is so much more than a buzzword – it is an essential strategy for nonprofit success and sustainability.

I recently got back from a vacation that included visits to some of the most beautiful places in the United States, including Yosemite National Park. I am fascinated with mountaineering and rock climbing, but my innate clumsiness means that I must live vicariously through others. While we were in Yosemite, I had the opportunity to sit in on a lecture by a renowned rock climber who has been climbing in Yosemite for more than 20 years. While I went for the stories about climbing, I left with a few lessons that are highly relevant for nonprofit organizations.

In recounting stories about the evolving way in which he sees the world, he mentioned that he would never have participated in something sponsored by the National Parks Service, like the lecture I was attending, even a few years ago. From his perspective, the National Parks Service interests could never align with the interests of the climbing community.

At some point, he realized that the climbing community in Yosemite could give up a little and get a lot more in return in terms of realizing their goals if they would work collaboratively with the National Parks Service. Learning to serve as a leader and as a catalyst for promoting this way of thinking among his fellow climbers has been a profound experience for this man, which says a lot for a man who has had a number of very profound experiences. While the relationship between the climbing community and the National Parks Service certainly is not perfect from his perspective, collaboration and working together to achieve some common goals has brought some significant results for both groups.

So, my message to the audience this morning focused on how each of us in attendance today could be a catalyst for promoting more effective collaboration and less duplication within the nonprofit sector – an essential strategy at this particular time in our sector’s history. We can often achieve more together than we can on our own, but we too often do not think beyond our organization’s own walls.

So, what can you do to serve as a catalyst for this kind of positive change within the nonprofit sector?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Western Slope Rural Philanthropy Days is Underway!

Hello from Crested Butte!

Lauren and I are in Crested Butte, along with CRC Board members Amy McBride and Sophie Faust and about 400 of our closest nonprofit friends, for Western Slope Rural Philanthropy Days. Lauren and I will be sharing our observations and insights from the event here, so stay tuned!

What is Rural Philanthropy Days, you ask? Every year, CRC works with local steering committees to plan two Rural Philanthropy Days events. This year, we will be hosting Western Slope Rural Philanthropy Days in Crested Butte (this week) and Northwest Rural Philanthropy Days in Steamboat Springs from September 16 to 18.

At each event, nonprofit attendees have the opportunity to participate in capacity building sessions, engage in working sessions on advancing collaboration in their communities, and meet with funders to build relationships that could result in funding for their organization. If you want to learn more about Rural Philanthropy Days, please visit CRC’s website at and stayed tuned to our blog for updates through the rest of the week.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Reading List: Evaluation

Want to learn more about how evaluation can help your organization? Check out these resources for some views on the topic.

Western Michigan University: Evaluation Glossaries

Western Michigan University: Deliberative Democratic Evaluation Checklist

OMNI Foundation: Pro Bono Evaluation Application Guidelines

University of Missouri Extension: Program Logic Model Overview

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation: The Logic Model Development Guide

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation: Designing Initiative Evaluation - A Systems-oriented Framework for Evaluating Social Change Efforts Basic Guide to Outcomes-Based Evaluation for Nonprofit Organizations with Very Limited Resources

Do you have a favorite online source for information about evaluation? Post it here!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Where in Colorado? For June

Each month, we feature a photo taken during our travels around Colorado. Last month, we featured this photograph to start off with an easy one. We had five correct guesses, with Aaron Miller submitting the first correct answer. Aaron gets a free copy of CRC's toolkit, Fundraising: Essential Strategies for Fundraising Success During an Economic Downturn.

For this month's "Where in Colorado?" we are inviting guesses on a more challenging photo. Those of you who travel Colorado's backroads will have a distinct advantage this month. We will offer one hint - this image is from one of the counties in CRC's Western Slope Rural Philanthropy Days region.

The first person to correctly identify the location (correct guesses can include the road from which the photo was taken, the name of the nearby trailhead, or the name of the tallest mountain in the photo) by posting the location on our blog will receive a free copy of CRC's toolkit, Fundraising: Essential Strategies for Fundraising Success During an Economic Downturn.

Start guessing!