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Nonprofit benefits outweigh the costs

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By Dyana Z. Furmansky

If you can’t live without art or theater, if you are keen on keeping the rivers flowing, passionate about protecting nature, improving education, supporting the disabled, feeding the hungry, housing the poor, helping veterans, rescuing abused puppies, propagating native seed, building a church, listening to a local radio station and reading a local newspaper, what you value may be a write-off. Carbondale residents have a plethora of values, whether they write them off or not. 

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“When we moved to Carbondale, we had no idea there would be so much opportunity to become engaged with nonprofits,” says one donor. “There are so many worthy causes, I can’t give my time or money to them all,” which is why she asks not to be identified. Tax return considerations are why so many nonprofit organizations are tirelessly asking for your money between now and Dec. 31. For donor contributions to be tax-deductible, a nonprofit must have a tax-exempt designation, part of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) tax code since 1954. 

On Dec. 7, Colorado Gives Day, statewide charitable giving reaches a fever pitch. In 2020, Colorado Gives Day — created by Community First Foundation (CFF) in Arvada — brought in a total of $50 million for the 2,874 nonprofits that participated, says Beth McConkey, vice president of marketing and communications. About 3,100 organizations will be included this year, including many based in Carbondale.

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The Town’s Chamber of Commerce lists 27 nonprofits on its website. But this is a fraction of the 158 501(c)(3) organizations located in the 81623 zip code, according to the national nonprofit rating service Charity Navigator. The free service helps donors decide which nonprofits to support, based on how well they use charitable contributions to advance a public benefit or erase a social ill. 

In the latest Colorado Nonprofit Economic Impact study, the Northwest Region of Colorado, which includes Garfield, Pitkin and Eagle counties, has the largest nonprofit sector in the state outside of the Denver metro area. Nonprofit employment accounts for more than 5% of all jobs in Garfield County, the largest percentage of the tri-county area. At $283 million, or more than 80% of spending in the county, Garfield outranks nonprofit spending in Pitkin and Eagle counties as well, according to the nonprofit economic impact study. Mesa County has the largest nonprofit employment and spending base in the Northwest Region. 

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The loss of local property taxes that aren’t collected from organizations because of their tax exemption is made up for by nonprofit employment and spending, says Mark Taylor, a senior policy director with the Colorado Nonprofit Association in Denver.  “They also are providing services that governments aren’t,” he says.

However, with so many Roaring Fork charitable organizations competing in the same donor pool, some are concerned that there’s not enough money to go around. CFF’s Beth McConkey disputes this. “There are 85,000 people who give on Colorado Gives Day, in a population of 5.8 million,” she says. “There’s a lot more that can be donated, but we need to educate more people” about what contributing to nonprofits can accomplish. McConkey is also critical of what she calls the “overhead myth,” which states that a good nonprofit is one in which at least 90% of the funding goes directly to the mission. “That would mean nonprofits are not paying people enough to do the job and make a living,” she says. 

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She acknowledges, however, there can be nonprofit saturation if too many serve the same purpose. “A person who has a passion for something should not automatically say, ‘Hey, I’m going to start a nonprofit,’” says McConkey. “There are times when existing organizations should join forces rather than duplicate their mission.” Another Carbondale donor who wishes to remain anonymous loves the choice of local nonprofits that focus on preserving the natural world. “I like to diversify my nonprofits to support environmental advocacy, as well as education and stewardship,” he says. 

The anonymous donor says he has shifted most of his environmental giving from national nonprofits to local ones. “There are a ton of people here trying to make the world a better place, and not for financial reasons. How great is that?”

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Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to reflect the following: Community First Foundation, responsible for creating Colorado Gives Day, was mistakenly referred to as the “Community First Federation.” 

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Tags: #Carbondale Chamber of Commerce #Colorado Gives Day #nonprofit #Third Street Center
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