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Rural Philanthropy: Small Towns, Big Impact

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Ben Jourdan

I am writing this blog in the passenger seat of a compact car with an air conditioning system that must have died a long time ago. El Pomar Senior Vice President Matt Carpenter and Grants Administrator Mary Rose Corser are sweating alongside me as we drive along I-76 westbound in Morgan County. We are heading back to Colorado Springs from a three-day trip to Fort Morgan and Brush, where we attended the Northeast Rural Philanthropy Days (RPD).

RPD is a collaborative program that builds excellence among the nonprofit and social service agencies supporting rural communities. Northeast RPD focused on the people and nonprofits in Cheyenne, Elbert, Kit Carson, Lincoln, Logan, Morgan, Phillips, Sedgwick, Yuma and Washington counties. The event is coordinated by the Community Resource Center (CRC) and features nonprofit development workshops and networking opportunities that connect Front Range-area foundations and nonprofits with local funders and community leaders in northeastern Colorado.

While Carpenter and El Pomar Senior Vice President Cathy Robbins both directed workshops for local nonprofits focused on leadership styles and tips for fundraising in the current economic climate, my favorite part of the event was the networking. During a roundtable discussion exercise, representatives from funding organizations were placed at tables around the room. Local nonprofit staffers then moved around from table to table in "speed dating" fashion. Nonprofits were given two minutes to make a “pitch” to the funders, after which the funder would advise the nonprofit to apply, wait to apply, or seek funding elsewhere.

This exercise taught me more about rural Colorado than I could have ever imagined. I learned about the region’s pressing issues and the needs from both large organizations and one-person start-ups. One organization sought funding to restore an old army fort to serve as a tourist destination. Another organization needed to raise capital for a new x-ray machine to abide by new health regulations. Their goals and missions all varied but every nonprofit I had the privilege to meet has a deep passion for the community and a dedication to make a difference.