Besides a season of shopping and food, local economic-development and business professionals say the holiday seasons history of charitable giving holds critical cues for the local economy.
Thats because there are more than 400 nonprofit organizations based in La Plata County alone, said Joe Keck, director of the Small Business Development Center.
And many of them see the foundations of their annual budgets roll in between Thanksgiving and New Years. In fact, for some, the last few weeks of this year will determine a years worth of work, said Jack Llewellyn, director of the Durango Chamber of Commerce.
Because collections over the holidays are distributed throughout the year in many situations, the economic impact is tremendous to our area, Llewellyn said.
Local nonprofit organizations wholeheartedly concurred.
Year-end giving is a big deal for the United Way, said Tim Walsworth, president of the Southwest Colorado chapter.
About 20 percent of the organizations annual budget comes from December donations, Walsworth said.
Other charities gave similar reports.
Manna Soup Kitchen sees 25 percent of its annual budget walk through the door during the holiday season, said Sarah Comerford, director. Mountain Studies Institute generates 80 percent of its annual budget between Nov. 1 and Jan. 1, said Marcie Bidwell, director. About half of the undesignated contributions to Hospice of Montezuma each year arrive in December and January. And the Adaptive Sports Association gets an estimated 75 percent of its individual donations in November and December, according to Executive Director Tim Kroes.
And as locals wallets and governmental contributors budgets have shrunk in recent years with the lingering economic downturn, each of the local charities say competition for individual donations, government grants and charitable foundation contributions has grown stiffer. Even more dire, the tightening financial scene comes as some charities missions, particularly social-service organizations missions, have become more crucial and taxed than ever.
As donors financial belts tighten, organizations such as the local food banks and soup kitchens are finding the community need for their services surging, and their annual budgets must now grow rather than shrink.
For instance, even though many more house fires erupt around the holidays and the services of the American Red Cross become more critical, holiday giving has slowed significantly for them over the last three years, said Cindi Shank, director of the Southwest Colorado Chapter.
Despite the challenges and the occasional jockeying for donations and grants, however, most local nonprofits and economic officials said theyre not seeing the fundraising stress turn to in-fighting or hard feelings.
In fact, the directors of some local charities, including Liz Mora, director of the Womens Resource Center in Durango, said the situation appears to encourage collaboration among nonprofits.
I feel that the holiday season is actually where most of the collaboration happens, Mora said.
Walsworth agreed, saying, I dont see anyone trying to step on anyone elses toes, but I do see people being more creative.
He pointed to Music in the Mountains holiday fundraiser this year as an example. The organization is auctioning and raffling off 25-year ski passes to Durango Mountain Resort.
Llewellyn likened the effects of having an expansive array of nonprofits locally to that of target marketing. He said donors benefit from the ability to choose a favorite local cause, and they often feel more connected to the charities as a result.
The beauty of giving locally is knowing your dollars go a long way and directly impacts our friends, families and neighbors,said Kroes of the Adaptive Sports Association.
Donors also get to see firsthand the fruits of their favorite charitys labors, said Keck. And whether donors realize it or not, theyre also watching their volunteer time and financial gifts ripple through the local economy for weeks and months after they give.
While having so many charitable organizations in one place could produce some duplication of efforts or overlap of services, Keck said, overall, they produce tremendous community benefits.
Think of the multiplier effect of all that volunteerism and what it would cost to replace it, he said. My sense is our quality of life and that of thousands of county residents would decrease significantly.
The charities interviewed for this story did have a message for their past and prospective donors this year: Whether youre considering it now or have already donated your time or money to a local nonprofit organization, thank you.
This is an amazingly generous community, Mora said. It amazes me every year.