The non-profits’ non-profit: The Community Foundation

[ By Kendra Walker ]

There’s a resource in the Gunnison Valley that’s working quietly behind the scenes to shine a light on the community and the local non-profit organizations we love.

“I think of us as the stage crew for the non-profit theater, and the non-profits are the actors. Actors are the ham, they like being in the limelight, they’re dramatic, and they’re passionate and they can move people. But their capacity to do that is amplified by the stage crew with lights, scene changes, costumes, etc. The Community Foundation of the Gunnison Valley kind of functions like that,” said board member Rose Zealand. “I do believe that we are essentially amplifying the capacity for the non-profits to deliver those experiences for the community.”

The Community Foundation of the Gunnison Valley (CFGV) serves the community through engaged philanthropy, grantmaking, education and collaborative leadership. Through charitable donations, the CFGV is able to support local non-profits through funding and support, award academic scholarships and invest in the community with educational programs and resources.

A champion for non-profits
According to executive director Lauren Kugler, the CFGV works with about 75 local non-profits in any given year, and this year awarded $165,000 in grants. “First and foremost, we try to meet the non-profits where they’re at,” she said. “We have everything from our Food Pantry that’s made up of volunteers, and then we have the Adaptive Sports Center and RMBL that are larger organizations, and then everything in-between.”

The CFGV has various avenues in which it supports organizations – not only financially through grant funding, but also through fiscal sponsorship. This includes helping a new non-profit get up and running, or helping an organization that is struggling in specific areas of operation.

“The Community Foundation has helped organizations and people in the community learn how to start a non-profit and understand all the steps they need to do so,” said Dave Clayton, vice president of the board. “In addition to helping them start up, we’ve been instrumental in cases where non-profits are struggling and we provide them with training and mentorship.”

Through its STEP Program, the CFGV has more than 100 mentors with skills that can then be matched with organizations in need of consulting services.

“The organization’s staff or board members can connect with us if they need help with things like strategic planning or board development or financials, and we match them up with the best available person to work with them on that,” said Kugler. “There are a lot of brilliant people in this valley that have a diversity of backgrounds. We enjoy triaging that and helping to match skills and expertise with non-profits that need it.”

Clayton also serves as a mentor, and has helped organizations with various skills, including strategic planning and board operations. “It’s really rewarding to go into an organization that has a problem and be able to put them on the right path so they are able to be more sustainable,” he said.

Additionally, through its fiscal sponsorship, the CFGV can help gather donations for a non-profit that is still awaiting its 501(c)(3) designation. “Mountain Roots is a good example,” said Kugler. “When they started out 11 years ago they had their business plan very much in order and they had a clear idea of what they wanted to do. They were essentially waiting to get their 501(c)(3) designation. We took on back office support for them and they were able to get donations from folks that were tax deductible through us. We helped them get a jump start.”

As a co-founder of Mountain Roots, CFGV board member Zealand has experienced the Community Foundation’s resources and support firsthand. “The Foundation was absolutely instrumental in providing services, coaching and guidance on getting our 501(c)(3) status and really helped us lay a solid foundation for what Mountain Roots has become. Eleven years later we’ve become a deeply rooted organization,” she said.

Helping the community in times of need
During the pandemic, the CFGV was able to pivot quickly and organize a COVID-19 recovery fund. By March 19, 2020, the CFGV had put a fund in place to accept charitable contributions that would be granted out to local organizations and programs assisting vulnerable populations in the community. CFGV raised nearly $500,000 that was distributed to non-profits in need.

“People weren’t sure where to put money for COVID or who really needed it,” said Clayton. “We collected the funds and had a quick grant process where organizations could request funds and get what they needed. The COVID response fund showed that people trust the Community Foundation to be able to do something positive and impactful with their money.”

“That was just incredible,” said Zealand. That wasn’t part of our original agenda, but it very much reflected our mission.”

Kugler noted that the CFGV’s ability to be a philanthropic arm for the community could provide opportunities to help with the valley’s current housing crisis. “The easiest thing we can do for housing right now is to work with the towns and county if they have any specific programs they’d like to do some fundraising for. If there’s interest in people wanting to donate, we have that mechanism of being able to set up a fund to support individual housing programs.”

Kugler explained that while it’s the municipalities’ responsibility to raise the money through their contacts and constituents, the CFGV could help spread the word and set up the fund. Kugler said the CFGV is talking with Mt. Crested Butte about potential fundraising ideas for its new Housing Matters Program, which aims to incentivize homeowners to switch from short-term renting to long-term renting to help house local employees.

The power of endowment
For people interested in making charitable donations that will benefit local non-profits, the CFGV has a number of options including donor advised or designated funds, scholarships, community grant funds and endowment funds.

“A lot of times somebody plans on charitable giving but doesn’t want to have to do all the management themselves,” explained Clayton. “They can advise the Community Foundation where they’d like to see the money go, or what we’re seeing more and more is people making donations to us and saying ‘you know what the needs are best.’ That’s a real testament to the fact that people are seeing the good we are doing for the community.”

The CFGV has been growing both its Forever Fund and Grant Fund endowments in order to continue its mission of being “here for good” for the community.

“Money that people give to that endowment will be there in perpetuity. The interest or dividends off of the money there can be used, instead of the foundation having to go and fundraise for it elsewhere,” explained Clayton.

“Endowments take a really long time to build but once they are built it’s one of the most sustainable ways to provide ongoing and reliable support and revenue for a non-profit,” said Zealand. “Growing that increases our capacity to give consistent and stable support to the community.”

The Forever Fund endowment supports the CFGV’s annual budget and operations costs so that all the focus and fundraising efforts can go toward community initiatives and supporting the needs of non-profits.

“The Forever Fund was really the dream of some of those early founders to build up this permanent resource that would then kick off some money every year to help with all the work we do in the community,” said Kugler. “This will diversify funding streams for the foundation’s operations and set us up with solid funding to carry on our work in perpetuity. The Forever Fund is helping to stabilize our own ongoing work to set us up to continue to be here forever evolving with the community’s needs.”

She concluded, “It really is an investment in the community; an investment in today, tomorrow and forever, because it’s benefiting today through our current work and tomorrow and forever by continuing to grow and distribute over the years.”

To learn more about the Community Foundation of the Gunnison Valley and the ways to donate a charitable gift or access non-profit resources, visit

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