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Northern Colorado Philanthropy Crosses County Lines

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Virginia Woodfork

The 2010 Northern Colorado Empty Stocking Fund (NCESF) recently wrapped up its latest campaign with indications that this four-year old effort is poised for growth. Gordan Thibedeau, President and CEO of United Way of Larimer County and member of El Pomar’s North Regional Council, took time to reflect on the success of the campaign--and offer suggestions for organizations interested in using similar methods to meet pressing needs in their area.

The Council initiated the fund in 2007 to introduce the idea of philanthropy to people who are not typically involved.Since then, the holiday campaign has raised more than $333,000 for eight health and human service agencies in Larimer and Weld Counties. This year, the campaign received $62,738 in community donations, which was matched with $20,913 by the North Council. The number of new donors has increased each year since the campaign’s inception--in 2010, there were 282 new donors (there were 135 in 2009).

“This proves how effective the campaign has been over the years,” explained Thibedeau. He attributes the success to partnerships with key organizations in the community. Thibedeau believes strong community partners bring credibility and the necessary infrastructure to manage the campaign.

The Fund’s partnership with the major newspapers in Larimer and Weld County is also crucial, according to Thibedeau. “It puts a human face on the campaign and has made a huge difference in the last four years,” he said. Two more partners, United Way in both Larimer and Weld County, have always administered the fund; but this year, they had a more direct role. In addition to providing web site management and processing all donations, the United Ways sent over 5,000 mailers to their own donors to support the Fund.

Making the campaign local has been a challenge for the North Council over the years. Larimer and Weld County are unique communities and it is unusual for community campaigns to cross county lines. “It is easy to focus on the difference between the two counties, but to be successful, you have to find commonalities,” said Thibedeau. “NCESF finds those commonalities and makes connections between the two counties.” Thibedeau’s final piece of advice: frequent evaluation is the key to long-term success.

“The success of community campaigns depends on the ability of the planning group to evaluate and refine the campaign,” he said. ”A Regional Council must realize that they will not get everything right the first time and be willing to try new things. The magic equation in making community campaign successful is refinement.”