Giving in a Big Way – Business Connections Aid a Growing Nonprofit Sector

November 23rd, 2015

Apprentices measure and cut cloth for handmade items in the workshop of Infinitely Simple, which is located in the basement of the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless.

Apprentices measure and cut cloth for handmade items in the workshop of Infinitely Simple, which is located in the basement of the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless.

by Maya Gurarie

The Boulder Chamber recently started an initiative to form better relationships between nonprofits and for profits to meet community needs. The nonprofit sector in Boulder County is an important factor in providing services, purchasing consumer goods and helping the community work together. And, there is a significant connection between commerce and the nonprofit sector—for example business people who need affordable housing and childcare can rely on YWCA Boulder and other organizations.

Leslie Durgin, the Boulder Chamber Nonprofit Liaison, is helping connect the volunteer, business and nonprofit community. She works with Boulder Chamber President and CEO John Tayer to set goals. As the former Mayor of Boulder, she draws on her connections and experience to educate the community about the role of nonprofits. A secondary goal is to make partnerships between the two groups strategic and easy.

Nonprofits By the Numbers

A study commissioned by the Leeds School of Business in 2014 found that nonprofits in Boulder County employed close to 2,150 people and paid $124.1 million to nonprofit employees. Nonprofits also contribute food, shelter, counseling and other services that can take a burden off government agencies.

The nonprofit sector in Colorado is growing, with Boulder, Denver, El Paso, Jefferson and Arapahoe Counties leading the way. According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, Colorado had a 36 percent increase in registered public charities from 2002 to 2012.

Work Skills Made Simple

One of these newly registered nonprofits is called Infinitely Simple. The organization provides work skills for people who have mental health challenges. Located in the basement of the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless, the workshop has outgrown its space and is looking for new digs to accommodate a retail shop.

Apprentices at Infinitely Simple learn about design, computer skills, using a sewing machine, hand painting and business management. The nonprofit sells cross-body totes, yoga bolsters, scented eye pillows, hand painted mirrors and infinity cushions at a variety of shops, conferences and festivals.

The Executive Director of Infinitely Simple, Susan Williams, is taking advantage of Boulder Chamber networking opportunities and educational classes to boost business. Stephanie Kindberg, a Marketing Associate at Infinitely Simple, met Boulder Chamber Ambassador Gary Strohm and Nonprofit Liaison Leslie Durgin at the new membership orientation in October. Both people have introduced her to other business contacts, which create more retail opportunities for the workshop.

“Our products are fabulous, but we’re not just about making mediation cushions. We’re helping people become more independent and live a fuller life,” says Stephanie Kindberg.

The apprentice work and ensuing employment can play a significant role in helping people recover from mental health challenges. Windhorse Community Services, Colorado Recovery, and Mental Health Partners refer program participants who struggle with issues such as bipolar disorder, autism, depression and anxiety. A 26-year-old apprentice recently graduated from the program within four months at Infinitely Simple. Gaining confidence from his new work skills, he applied to the August Escoffier Culinary School of Arts and was accepted as a full-time student.

“I’m intrigued by Infinitely Simple because it’s a social enterprise that combines business and a community mission. It goes beyond a one-time volunteer event to give people the skills and expertise they need to make their lives sustainable,” says Leslie Durgin.

Thinking Strategically

The Boulder Chamber is developing a model to help for profit businesses find a match with the right nonprofits. Many Boulder County organizations have employees who want to volunteer their time once, on an ongoing basis, or donate money for the opportunity to be part of a cause they care about.

One such philanthropist is Dan Hayward, who owns a retail store in Boulder called Savory Spice. According to Durgin, he gets 50-60 requests per month to donate money and product samples. While Hayward contributes to the Community Food Share and other nonprofits, he is looking for guidance on making strategic decisions about where to make donations.

Where Nonprofits and Public Policy Meet

In addition to aiding business connections, the Boulder Chamber serves as a public policy advocate by considering nonprofits in guiding policy and decisions. Did you know that last election’s ballot questions 300 and 301 could have negatively impacted nonprofit growth in City of Boulder neighborhoods? Question 300 would have allowed neighborhood entities to refuse nonprofit services to be located within their areas including shelters, daycare centers or group homes for troubled youth. Durgin worked with members of the Human Services Alliance in Boulder County to adopt a policy statement expressing their concern about these issues.

Local and Practical Next Steps

Durgin plans on helping nonprofits make practical connections within the business community in the near future. She also has her eye on tackling major community needs and the role of nonprofits in meeting them, but those tactical steps are yet to be defined.

“This is a fabulous volunteer job putting people together for the benefit of the community. I’m passionate about nonprofits and the contributions they make to the quality of life and sustainability in Boulder,” says Durgin.

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