Good works in bad times: Nonprofits strive to meet increasing demands with decreasing funds

Nonprofit organizations in the Grand Valley face challenging times in the wake of the Great Recession.

With unemployment above 9 percent in Mesa County, demand for services has increased. Meanwhile, businesses and families facing tighter budgets can be less likely to give as much as during better economic times.

Salvation Army Collapse
Salvation Army Collapse

“It is down,” says Dan Wilson, director of the Salvation Army in Grand Junction. Wilson estimates total giving at the end of the year will be about $70,000 below 2009, a drop he attributed to economic conditions.

“Think about how many construction people are out of work now,” he says, adding that many of them contributed to nonprofits when they were drawing paychecks.

Nationwide, a survey of nonprofit organizations indicates about the same number of organizations saw an increase in donations this year as the number that experienced a decline. The survey, conducted in part by the Urban Institute’s National Center for Charitable Statistics, included results from 2,500 nonprofits, with 36 reporting an increase over 2009 contributions and 37 percent reporting a decline. The remainder reported donations that were comparable to last year.

In Grand Junction, the Salvation Army received a financial shot in the arm from the annual bell ringing competition between the Kiwanis Club of Grand Junction and Downtown Rotary Club. The total wasn’t available at press time, but Wilson estimates the clubs collected about $40,000.

The Salvation Army plans to donate turkeys to people in need during the holidays. Wilson says generous local people have contributed more than 2,000 of the holiday birds. The organization also collects toys for the holidays and anticipates increased demand due to cancellation of the local Toys for Tots program.

The Salvation Army faces an unexpected need this year because the roof collapsed at its Thrift Store along Ute Avenue. Wilson says it’s a blessing no one was injured, but the store is closed for at least six months while the organization ponders how to repair the structure.

On a wider scale, the Salvation Army has closed some locations, Wilson says.

Alcohol recovery units in Colorado Springs and Salt Lake City have been shut down due to low funding.

Not every local nonprofit faces such challenges this year, however.

“For us, it’s fantastic,” says Amy Rogers, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Mesa County. “We’ve done a good job of reaching out to cash donors.”

Applications for grants also have been fruitful this year even as Habitat has trimmed its overhead costs, Rogers says. Business at the Habitat ReStore on North Avenue in Grand Junction has been brisk. The store accepts donations and sells them to raise funds to build homes for families in need.

“We don’t do re-storing. We build homes,” Rogers says. “People come out of the woodwork and want to help.”

Habitat workers are building two homes in the Hoffman Country Village subdivision on D Road just east of 30 Road. Crews finished a home in Palisade last summer and plan two more homes on lots in the Riverside neighborhood in Grand Junction.

At the United Way of Mesa County, fund-raising for the annual campaign is “chugging along,” says Amanda Crysler, development director of the local chapter. “Right now, we’re tracking where we were last year.”

The goal is $1.2 million, about $100,000 more than the amount raised last year. It’s the same goal United Way had in 2007, when the local economy was more robust.

Ironically, nonprofit organizations sometimes experience a drop in giving during a strong economic climate. That’s because people might assume that the need for donations is lower than during good times. Such was the case for both the local Salvation Army and Habitat for Humanity in 2007. Conversely, contributions can increase during lean economic times due to the perception there’s greater need for aid.

Whatever the effect of current economic conditions, nonprofits continue to look for ways to shore up funding for a need that could be even greater in 2011. And many nonprofit managers remain confident they’ll find what they need to get through another year.

“I’ve always called Grand Junction what should be a microcosm of what the rest of the country should be,” Rogers says in noting the generosity of local contributors.