“Colorado Giving Voice” Blog

Philanthropy’s Awareness Gap?

When I started in this role more than five years ago, philanthropy had just discovered that fewer than two in 10 influential Americans — think policymakers, for instance — could name an example of a foundation’s impact on their community or an issue they cared about.

The research project known as the Philanthropy Awareness Initiative showed that only a little over one-third of these engaged individuals — elected officials, business leaders, government and nonprofit leaders — could even name a foundation at all.

This multi-year study concluded, among other things, that it won’t be a one-time effort to keep policymakers informed but rather an ongoing process of building connections and relationships.

Just this week, I ran across a blog headlined, “Does Philanthropy’s Awareness Gap still exist?

It was written about a Rockefeller Foundation convening of public officials working on disaster recovery and community resilience. The Philanthropy Northwest blog reported that those in attendance at the Seattle meeting seemed to have little understanding about philanthropy in their communities. But there were a couple of examples specifically mentioned by officials in the room, including the Colorado Association of Funders’ disaster planning and response work with the governor’s office here.

Raising awareness about philanthropy has become an increasingly important part of CAF’s mission, whether it’s through collecting relevant data or keeping policymakers informed about important work in Colorado’s communities.

We’ll (so far) be joined in Washington next month for our annual meetings with members of Congress by: Rebecca Arno (The Denver Foundation), Heather Carroll (Joseph Henry Edmondson Foundation), Kyle Hybl (El Pomar Foundation), Joe Ignat (Nord Family Foundation), Megan Ledin (Grand Foundation), Tim Schultz (Boettcher Foundation) and Sue Renner (David and Laura Merage Foundation).

All of this work only happens with our members’ support and involvement. Many thanks for all you do.


We’re heading back to DC in March for Foundations on the Hill

  • January 26, 2015
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Working with our colleagues at regional associations across the country, we’re busy planning for this year’s annual Foundations on the Hill program in Washington, DC. I snapped this photo foundationsonthehill-editof the famed cherry blossoms a couple of years ago; I can’t promise they’ll be in bloom this time around — March 17-19. It’s always a memorable experience anyway and we are looking forward to having some of our members joining us on this year’s trip. There’s still time to make plans. To learn more, visit the Foundations on the Hill website here.


Marla Williams begins term as CAF board chair


We’re extremely grateful to our board directors for their service to CAF. Special thanks go to Community First Foundation CEO Marla Williams, who officially became our new board chair this month.

A press release follows:

Marla Williams takes helm of Colorado foundation group board

DENVER, CO – Marla J. Williams has been elected board chair of the Colorado Association of Funders (CAF), a statewide group representing a broad range of foundations, corporate giving programs and other groups that support nonprofit causes.

Williams is president and CEO of Community First Foundation, a foundation helping donors and nonprofits come together to improve quality of life in the Denver metro area. Community First funds community programs, supports the services of nonprofit organizations, and assists individuals with charitable giving. The Foundation is also known for innovative programs such as ColoradoGives.org, an online giving resource that has raised more than $80 million for Colorado nonprofits in five years and is the platform for Colorado Gives Day.

“Colorado foundations and other funders enjoy a strong spirit of collaboration and CAF’s statewide network helps make that possible,” Williams said. “I look forward to working even more closely with the association to build on its work in connecting funders to share ideas, expertise and opportunities for positive impact.”

Before joining the Foundation, Williams served as president and CEO of The Women’s Foundation of Colorado. She continues her service to the foundation as an Honorary Trustee. Prior to joining the Women’s Foundation of Colorado, she was a partner with Holme Roberts & Owen LLP (HRO). At the law firm, Williams represented a number of nonprofit clients and supported them in all aspects of their business.

Williams earned a J.D. from Harvard Law School and an A.B. from Indiana University.

She is active in the community and serves on several boards, including SCL Health – Front Range and Sturm Financial Group. She is past president of Colorado Women’s Bar Association and is the recipient of the Mary Lathrop Award, the highest honor bestowed by the Women’s Bar Association. She has also been honored by the Girl Scouts of Colorado as a Woman of Distinction and named Woman of the Year by the Colorado Business and Professional Women’s Association (now Colorado Business Women.)

“We’re extremely fortunate to have such strong board leadership as we continue to expand our efforts to strengthen the sector and serve as a vital voice for philanthropy in our state,” said Joanne Kelley, Executive Director of Colorado Association of Funders.

Other CAF board officers and directors are:

  • Vice Chair: Mark D. Andersen, Executive Director, Yampa Valley Community Foundation
  • Secretary: Gay Cook, Vice President of Strategy & Philanthropic Relations, The Colorado Trust
  • Treasurer: Kelly Dunkin, Vice President of Philanthropy, Colorado Health Foundation
  • Gary Butterworth, Senior Vice President, El Pomar Foundation
  • Rob Greenlee, Executive Director, Greenlee Family Foundation
  • Joseph Ignat, Representative, Nord Family Foundation
  • Alyssa Kopf, CEO, Community Shares of Colorado
  • Sue Renner, Executive Director, David and Laura Merage Foundation
  • Ruth Rohs, Executive Director, IMA Foundation
  • Ellen Sandberg, President, CH2M Hill Foundation
  • Tamara Tormohlen, Executive Director, Aspen Community Foundation
  • Lynne Valencia, Vice President, Community Relations, 9News/Gannett Foundation
  • Chris Wiant, President and CEO, Caring for Colorado Foundation

Rose Community Foundation challenges community to “Innovate for Good”

  • January 6, 2015
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Here’s the challenge: What new and innovative idea would you bring to life to make the Greater Denver community a better place to live?

You have a month to submit your best pitch here.

Rose Community Foundation will award a total of $250,000 for up to 10 new and innovative ideas. Spread the word. Or enter yourself. Almost anyone can get involved – “artists, engineers, nonprofits, neighborhood associations, teenagers, retirees – you name it,” according to the challenge launched this month.

Stay tuned for the results, which will be announced in June as the community foundation celebrates its 20th anniversary.


Innovate for Good logo

Blueprint 2015

Shout out to Stanford Fellow Lucy Bernholz for keynoting our 2014 annual meeting. Her observations and musings and insights on the Digital Civil Society sparked lively conversation.

We’re getting ready to read her annual industry forecast to see what the next 12 months have in store for the sector. Click here to check her predictions for 2015.


Colorado joins other community foundations at White House in marking 100 years

  • December 4, 2014
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The White House organized and hosted a convening on Dec. 2 to recognize the 100th anniversary of community foundations.

We were joined by  Josie Heath, CEO of The Community Foundation Serving Boulder County and Sheila Bugdanowitz, CEO of Rose Community Foundation as well as other community foundation leaders and regional association leaders from around the country. The day served as an opportunity to reflect on the centennial accomplishments and the future promise of what has been called “a uniquely American innovation.”

Read more.

“Stories worth telling” — A new resource from foundation with storied past of its own

  • October 6, 2014
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I’ve been fortunate to begin getting to know Julie Rogers, who retired earlier this year from the Meyer Foundation in Washington, D.C. After spending 28 years at the helm of the foundation, Rogers has decided to put down roots here in Colorado.

One of the legacies Roger’s left to the D.C. region was her leadership in creating our colleague organization there, the Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers.  She’s also been an active proponent of the nationwide Forum Network, which is made up of 34 regional associations of grantmakers with more than 5,500 participating organizations, making it the largest network in American philanthropy.

Like many foundations, Meyer has a story behind it that goes beyond the source of its wealth – in this case, investment banking. According to the foundation’s website, Eugene Meyer served under seven U.S. presidents and held positions ranging from head of the War Finance Corp., to chairman of the Federal Reserve to founding president of the World Bank. His storied past includes the 1933 purchase of the Washington Post, where he served as publisher and chairmen until his death 26 years later. Agnes Ernst Meyer, his wife, was an accomplished investigative journalist, literary translator, author and activist.

But the stories the foundation perhaps cares about most are those waiting to be told by the many nonprofits it supports. Rogers shared with me this just released publication on storytelling. With support from Meyer, it was produced by  Georgetown University’s Center for Social Impact Communication.

The “Stories Worth Telling” project follows the old newspaper editor’s adage of “show me, don’t tell me” by providing examples of compelling stories that have actually worked for nonprofits trying to increase fundraising and bolster outreach efforts.

The project was intended to benefit Meyer Foundation’s grantees. But it’s available for any nonprofit looking to turn its stories into great ones.





An anniversary of a ‘moment of a lifetime’

This week marks four years since we started this blog. It also marks four years since I had the life-changing chance to donate bone marrow to my younger brother. Colleagues occasionally get up the nerve to ask me if he’s still doing OK.

To mark the fourth anniversary of an experience I still can’t completely wrap my head around, we’re sharing a 2011 blog post below. (It also contains a link to the inaugural 2010 blog titled, “Moment of a Lifetime”).

Oh, and my brother? Happily, he’s still doing great.


Originally posted on Aug. 4, 2011

Tom (with his two-year-old daughter Leela) on the first road trip doctors cleared him to take almost a year after the transplant.

We launched the Colorado Giving Voice blog in August 2010 with my personal reflections about donating bone marrow to my brother, Tom. He just left me a voicemail on his drive home from a checkup at Sloan-Kettering Hospital in New York, where the transplant took place exactly a year earlier. All’s well.

The experience inspired me to prepare the following remarks recently when I was asked to speak about philanthropy.

I’m going to guess you’re all philanthropists – every one of you.

Some people have a million or even a billion dollars or more to start a foundation.

You might donate through a community foundation or your workplace.

Or you might give of your time, money or self in other ways.

Bill Daniels made a fortune in the cable television industry and left his billion dollar estate to a foundation that’s already invested $300 million in the past decade in the areas Daniels cared about most.

The Penrose family, which built the Broadmoor resort and made money in mining, started El Pomar Foundation, which seeks advice from people all over the state to help it decide where to make grants to help local residents.

That same year El Pomar was founded, the Boettchers, who made money in industries like cement and happened to have their own iconic hotel – the Brown Palace — also started a foundation that invests in capital intensive projects such as senior centers and boys and girls clubs.

Bonfils-Stanton. Buell. Coors. Johnson. These are all names now associated with Colorado’s foundation sector.

Western Union and Xcel Energy are among the many companies that have set up corporate foundations to invest in worthy causes. And new generations of entrepreneurs have been creating foundations, too. Software entrepreneur Tim Gill started the Gay and Lesbian Fund and Gill Foundation. David Merage founded Hot Pockets and used some of the proceeds from the sale of the company to set up a Colorado foundation focused on areas such as early childhood learning.

There are many, many small foundations with less than a million in assets.

In the span of just a decade, the number of Colorado foundations more than doubled, jumping to more than 1,200 from 600. Assets more than tripled, topping $10 billion vs $3 billion a decade earlier. Total foundation giving in Colorado rose to almost $700 million a year from $169 million.

While foundation investments took a hit during the recent economic downturn, we’re seeing things slowly recovery along with the rest of the economy.

But foundations aren’t ATM machines. And they’re not even just about charity.

Think of them as venture capitalists for social change. This is the description Gov. John Hickenlooper used recently when he was explaining how more than 30 foundations came together to provide the initial support and expertise for Denver’s campaign to end homelessness in a decade.

You might be surprised to know what types of things foundations have provided the seed money for: the 911 system, Sesame Street, even a study that showed painting white stripes on the outer edge as well as the inner edge of highway lanes prevented collisions.

A number of Colorado foundations – including The Colorado Trust and Colorado Health Foundation — are focused on tackling the health care crisis in creative ways, either by working to build public will for health reform or by encouraging and teaching school cafeteria lunch ladies how to cook healthy food from scratch

For those of you who don’t have a billion or a million dollars to give, there’s still plenty of opportunity to be generous. Community foundations in cities and counties all over this state are pooling money from people of more modest means so they can collectively have a larger impact in their communities.

There are workplace giving programs (Mile High United Way, Community Shares of Colorado, and Caring Connection, for example) where employees can contribute a specified amount toward favorite causes. It’s an extremely effective way to make sure you regularly open your heart and your wallet

If you don’t think you can make a difference, consider this:

Individuals are responsible for the most of the charitable giving in this country. That adds up to about 75 percent of the hundreds of billions donated in this country every year.

You don’t even have to contribute money to be a philanthropist. Maybe you’ve volunteered time or you’ve had an unexpected chance to help others in need.

Last summer when I returned home from my summer vacation there was a Fedex box waiting on my doorstep. There was a test kit for collecting tissue samples to see if my bone marrow might be a match for a patient who urgently needed a transplant.

In this case it was for my brother. He had just been diagnosed with a life threatening condition called Aplastic Anemia. I’m grateful to be able to say he’s doing fine a year later.

While I did this for my brother, I discovered that people do things like this all the time for strangers. BeTheMatch.org is only one way to find out about how this works. There are all kinds of nonprofits helping people make these sorts of connections.

This is what philanthropy is really all about. Sure, the money helps. But its true definition is ultimately about showing compassion for humankind.

Everyone can be a philanthropist.

You can start a foundation.

You can donate to a community foundation or give through your workplace.

Or you can donate directly to a cause you care about – whether that involves giving of your time, money, or yourself.

There’s a philanthropist in all of us.

Joanne Kelley is executive director of the Colorado Association of Funders.

#Philanthropy: What I did on my summer advocacy ‘staycation’

  • August 7, 2014
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Joe Ignat, Nord Family Foundation, Sheila Bugdanowitz, Rose Community Foundation and Joanne Kelley, Colorado Association of Funders catch up with Congresswoman Diana DeGette in her Denver office on Aug. 7, 2014

Tucked away in a brick office building next to the newest Trader Joe’s in town, the senior member of Colorado’s congressional delegation meets with visitors in a conference room distinguished by plaques and framed mementos from nonprofits and others recognizing her service over the years.

In the nation’s capital, the state’s only current female member of Congress has a spacious office with a coveted view from her desk window that extends down the mall to the iconic Washington Monument.

When it comes to getting Rep. Diana DeGette’s undivided time and attention, however, the home turf trumps all that.

We sat down with her this week to talk about Colorado philanthropy and how it’s making a difference in her district. We asked for her support in ensuring Congress preserves the full value of the charitable deduction when it considers tax reform in the coming year.

We also heard about her work as a member of the far-reaching Energy and Commerce Committee, as well as her leadership on a new initiative called 21st Century Cures. (Stay tuned for information on a Sept. 3, 2014, roundtable DeGette and her staff are planning on the topic in Denver before she heads back to Washington.)

In our more than half-hour meeting, there were no buzzing sounds beckoning her to floor votes, or schedulers popping their heads through the door to signal the next meeting should have started already. There were no airplane flights involved, hotel bills to pay or taxis to catch. Parking was free. And we had enough time for genuine conversation.

Turns out “recess” might be a good idea after all?



New giving data strikes optimistic note

2013_giving_usa_book_cover_imageIndividual donors continue to power gains in charitable giving, with overall contributions approaching their pre-recession high, according to annual Giving USA data released this week.

“While this has been a particularly slow recovery, many charities are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” said L. Gregg Carlson, chair of Giving USA Foundation, which publishes the report.” Donors are increasingly more comfortable giving to the causes they care about and at a level in keeping with the impact they would like to make.”

The report showed an increase of $9.69 billion by individuals in 2013. Giving by foundations rose an estimated 5.7 percent, the third consecutive annual increase.

In all,  U.S. individuals, corporations, foundations and bequests combined to contribute more than $335 billion, up 4.4 percent, to charitable organizations last year. 

Read more.