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Reliable and Responsive: Grant Making in Response to Crisis


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Reliable and Responsive: Grant Making in Response to Crisis

By Matt Carpenter


I vividly remember a unique opportunity to meet with Colorado’s U.S. Representatives and Senators in Washington D.C. in early March 2020 as part of the national Foundations on the Hill program.  I joined Colorado philanthropic colleagues and met with elected leaders to discuss the impact of the nonprofit and philanthropic sector. We were some of the last individuals to officially meet with our representatives before the U.S. capitol closed its doors during the start of the pandemic. Since that time, the past two years have been personally and professionally challenging for all of us.

With this in mind, El Pomar’s President and CEO, Kyle Hybl, led an effort with our leadership team to reflect on Spencer and Julie Penrose’s legacy and intent. We established the Foundation’s “5 Rs:” Resourceful, Relational, Responsive, Resilient and Reliable. It is a part of our operational commitment and guides the staff on how we continue to uphold the Foundation’s mission “to enhance, encourage and promote the current and future well-being of the people of Colorado.” Two of these commitments have been particularly critical to our operations in navigating these unusual years of crisis response and recovery support – reliability and responsiveness.



The legacy of the Penroses and their commitment to Colorado, including the founding of El Pomar Foundation, goes back more than 100 years.  We strive to be a consistent source of service to the people of Colorado, through both growth and challenge, with a Reliable and high standard of excellence. This is true for our grant making and programs, as well as for guests who attend a conference or meeting at Penrose House, or visit the Heritage Museum or Will Rogers Shrine of the Sun to learn about the Penroses and Colorado Springs.

One of the key ways this commitment to Reliability shows up is in our grant making. In my 23 years of service at El Pomar, I have attended many seminars in Colorado and the southwestern U.S. discussing philanthropic trends and how to serve communities and nonprofits. There have been changing perspectives and movements over the years regarding whether foundations should provide general operating support grants. El Pomar’s leadership has consistently understood the importance of general operating support and the impact it can have for the staff, volunteers and clients of nonprofits. Since 2001, one third of the number of approved El Pomar grants (more than 6,000 grants) have been general operating support. The Trustees understand the importance of being a Reliable source of general operating funding in supporting sustainability for nonprofits.



On March 9, 2020, El Pomar’s Trustees activated the Foundation’s Colorado Assistance Fund (CAF) to provide immediate aid to nonprofit organizations and government entities responding to the needs of Coloradans impacted by COVID-19. In 2021, CAF supported cultural community events, festivals and venues that sought to build connection and reignite economic vitality, particularly in rural Colorado. CAF funding in those two years totaled more than $3.6 million. This was similar to Julie and Spencer’s responsiveness during the Great Depression and World Wars as they served the people of Colorado. 

On January 3, 2022, in the immediate wake of the last CAF response effort, the Trustees once again convened to discuss their response to the Marshall Fire in Boulder which totaled more than $280,000.   The Trustees are tremendous stewards of our mission, and understand the importance of being a Responsive source of funding in challenging times that impact our state.

We are all honored to be a part of a vital nonprofit and philanthropic sector and look forward to partnerships with Colorado nonprofits and communities that serve the people of Colorado and honor the Penrose legacy in Reliable and Responsive ways.  Please visit our grant making page to learn more about El Pomar Foundation’s grant making opportunities.