Helping nonprofits weather an unprecedented year

The eight Greater Denver nonprofit organizations participating in the 2020-21 Nonprofit Endowment Cohort (NEC) work in a variety of issue areas and serve different populations, but they all faced an unpredictable year and shifting scope of need due to the pandemic.

“Our work changed dramatically due to COVID,” said Nina Roumell, deputy director of development for The Growhaus. “Our education offerings were paused, and we scaled a no-cost grocery program from serving 50 people a week to 400 people a week. Our funding priorities shifted in a major way to help support this programming.”

Nina credits the NEC with providing the training and instruction to establish and grow an endowment fund, a source of stable revenue during times of economic unpredictability. Since 2015, the Nonprofit Endowment Cohort, a program of Rose Community Foundation, has provided education, coaching and peer engagement to nonprofits in Greater Denver. By the end of the eight-month program, participating organizations have each launched an endowment fund and drafted a plan to continue the growth of the fund over time. The goal is to incorporate endowment building and planned giving into their existing development efforts. These organizations intentionally considered their future at a moment when the present demanded the entirety of their attention and capacity.

During a virtual celebration marking the end of this year’s cohort, organizations had the opportunity to reflect on a year of tremendous unpredictability and share their takeaways:

Plan – but also be flexible

Many organizations shared the difficulty of prioritizing endowment building during times of transition, but by making a plan to integrate endowment growth into their regular work it was easier to keep up with their goals. “Although there have been so many downsides to the pandemic, there have also been positives including reinforcing the importance of our endowment fund in helping build for our future,” says Sarah James, development manager for The Art Students League of Denver.

Secure your financial future

Funders appreciate organizations that think about the future. Josh Flenniken, executive director of Summit Huts Association, said that participating in the NEC made his organization more competitive for available grants because they were planning for the sustainability of their work. “The funder felt more comfortable allocating grants to organizations that have long-term plans in place,” says Josh. “It brought home the importance of what we’re working on.”

Share your story with donors

Whether through transformational experiences with nature, instilling a love of learning or providing access to mental health services, these nonprofits provide an opportunity for donors to support something that meaningfully impacted their lives. “I learned to not be afraid to talk about this with donors,” shares James. “This program demystified some of the fears around asking for legacy or endowment gifts. I feel very equipped to enter these conversations going forward.”

The participating organizations successfully raised funds from their supporters to contribute to their endowments, and Rose Community Foundation contributed $80,000 in incentive grants to these funds. The 2020-2021 participants join the NEC Alumni Network where they will continue to be supported by Rose Community Foundation through trainings, resources and ongoing coaching.

“Nonprofits are vital to our region’s recovery, livability and sustainability,” says Amelia Fink, Rose Community Foundation’s director of nonprofit funds and endowments. “Our hope is that these funds, along with the ongoing networking and education, allow organizations to continue serving our community for generations to come.”

If you are interested in learning more about the Nonprofit Endowment Cohort, please contact Amelia Fink or Gillian Breuer.

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