Navigating a Dynamic Operating Environment: Colorado Nonprofit Association
3/26/19 / Kate Darwent
While there is a unique excitement and joy that comes with every project that we do, working with certain clients over many years can be especially rewarding. Not only do we get to really know an organization during a lengthy working relationship, but we also get to see how they use the project work that we do for them. As we complete our 20th year of business, we are highlighting some of our clients, including many who have worked with us over a number of years. I have worked with the Colorado Nonprofit Association on a variety of projects over the past five years, so I was excited to hear more about the relationship between the Association and Corona. Renny Fagan, President and CEO of the Association, graciously agreed to speak with me about our work together.
Corona’s history with the Colorado Nonprofit Association
Formed in 1986, the Colorado Nonprofit Association is focused on strengthening nonprofits across the state, both by offering relevant services and education to nonprofits and by advocating on behalf of the nonprofit sector. The Colorado Nonprofit Association and Corona have worked together on both research projects and strategy projects for over a decade, including various surveys, economic impact analyses of the nonprofit sector, and facilitation of board retreats.
Corona’s work for the Colorado Nonprofit Association predates not only me but also Fagan who has been with the Association for ten years. Prior to joining the Association, Fagan had had a career in state government, which is definitely an asset for the Association’s advocacy work. When Fagan first joined the Association, Corona had just completed an economic impact analysis of nonprofits in Colorado in collaboration with John Hopkins University. Fagan’s first project was to update the charitable giving survey that Corona had done previously for the Association.
In addition to project work, Corona has supported the Association by sponsoring events, having multiple employees participate on the Leadership Advisory Committee, and participating in the Association’s conference.
Changes in the Nonprofit Sector
Like many other industries, the nonprofit sector has experienced continual growth and change over the past ten years. Fagan described the past ten years as “a wild ride for nonprofits, starting with the recession in 2009.” While the recession was a difficult time for nonprofits in Colorado, Fagan believes that the recession did encourage more collaboration between nonprofits that share common mission objectives in order to maximize resources.
Additionally, over the past ten years, there have been several different federal policies that have differentially impacted nonprofits. Fagan explained, “it started with government appropriations and funding. The recession put recovery money into the nonprofit sector. When that phased out, there was a trough. And that happened at the same time that Congress debated tax reform. And that impacted charitable giving. After that, the economy improved, which increased opportunity for nonprofits to gain from private donations. Now the 2017 federal tax change will also have an effect on nonprofits. That’s really the theme of the last 10 years. Nonprofits are in a dynamic operating environment.”
This dynamic operating environment for nonprofits has also been shaped by other forces over the past ten years. Obviously, Colorado’s population has grown significantly over the last several years, and there have been some significant demographic changes for the state as well. Additionally, technology trends have also affected the day-to-day work of nonprofits. Social media has had a big impact on nonprofits, and Fagan predicts that big data and artificial intelligence could really shape how nonprofits operate in the future.
As the sector has expanded and changed, the Colorado Nonprofit Association has adapted as well. “What we’ve done with growth has been to enrich and expand programs and expand advocacy,” noted Fagan. Their expanded advocacy has really focused on “issues that impact nonprofits, primarily tax incentives to encourage charitable giving.” The Association has also focused on having a larger presence as a statewide organization. They recently merged with the Center for Nonprofit Excellence in Colorado Springs, which gives them new members and a new location from which to work.
How has the Association used Corona’s work?
The Colorado Nonprofit Association has really made the most of the charitable giving study that Corona has done over the past several years. This is a statewide survey that tries to gauge how people are giving and what is motivating their giving behaviors. As Fagan explained, “Fundraising is so important for nonprofits, so having data about individual behavior is really helpful.” For the most recent version of the study, we proposed creating donor profiles from the survey data, which have been very useful. Fagan believes that the profiles were “something a nonprofit can get their head around. They’re not just the statistics but instead show what are the key behaviors.”
Beyond our research work, the Association has also benefited from the strategy work we provided several years ago. Fagan noted, “on the consulting side, Karla’s help with out board was really important.”
Working with Corona
When asked what it was like to work with Corona, Fagan described the process as very collaborative. “Corona has a lot of expertise and knowledge that is brought to bear on a subject matter to support the client,” he explained. The three words he would use to describe Corona are expert, supportive, and collaborative.
Fagan noted that the work on the charitable giving study really demonstrated the collaborative process. At one of the initial meetings for the most recent version of the survey, Fagan told us that the survey needed to be shorter, and he also wanted the results to be more “popularized”. Based on these needs, Corona helped trim the survey questions and suggested creating donor profiles to make the results more accessible. Fagan described the working relationship as “a process of cocreating but also using your expertise to create a product that was useful for us and the people that we serve.”
Working with the Colorado Nonprofit Association has been very rewarding for us at Corona as well. Creating the donor profiles from the charitable giving survey was one of my favorite projects at Corona. And the insights we generated from our project work for the Association also help us better understand the environments and needs that our nonprofit clients face.
Thanks again to Renny Fagan for taking the time to speak with us and for all the great collaboration!
Throughout 2019, to help celebrate our 20th Anniversary, we are profiling our staff and select clients. Click here to view all of our interviews.
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