A plethora of local nonprofits are staging, or in the midst of, multimillion-dollar capital campaign fundraising efforts, seeking charitable support from donors in post-recession Aspen.
Local campaigns range from large and long-planned like Aspen Music Festival and School’s $75 million push to redevelop its campus, to Aspen Valley Hospital’s $60 million campaign for its building expansion, to the Aspen Art Museum’s $50 million drive for its new downtown museum, alongside recently launched ones like Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club’s $15 million endowment and training facilities campaign and the Aspen Community School’s $6 million-plus campaign for a campus overhaul.
More than a dozen local nonprofits are currently running, or soon to launch, campaigns. The Chabad Jewish Community Center is raising $22 million for its new facility, Ross Montessori is raising $1 million to match a state grant for new facilities, Theatre Aspen is on the tail end of a $2 million push for its new tent, and the Aspen Community Church is seeking $5 million for structural repairs.
Also in the works are likely multimillion-dollar campaigns from the Aspen Historical Society to protect its archives and from Mountain Rescue Aspen to build its new headquarters across Highway 82 from the airport.
“I don’t know if it’s an unprecedented amount of campaigns going on, but it is quite an accumulation of campaigns,” said Tamara Tormohlen, executive director of the Aspen Community Foundation, which supports nonprofits from Aspen to Parachute through grants.
Tormohlen noted that the circumstances leading to the campaigns vary widely.
Some, like the hospital, the art museum and the Jewish Community Center, have been in the works for years and are well underway. Others, like Ross Montessori and the Community School, came about months ago in response to winning state grants, which they had been applying for over several years, and which require matching funds from the schools. Still others, like the Mountain Rescue and Theatre Aspen campaigns, resulted from previously unforeseen real estate and facility improvement opportunities.
“If they’re all successful, and I hope they are, it’s quite an asset that the nonprofit community is bringing to our region,” Tormohlen said.
Generally nonprofits will secure large gifts to anchor a big capital campaign, before they go to the public for fundraising. Mountain Rescue Aspen, for instance, was given $1.5 million from an Oklahoma family rescued from a plane crash in the Capitol Creek Valley in 1977.
Large, multimillion-dollar campaigns are also usually assisted by in-house feasibility studies, so organizations can be confident of success before going public with charitable events, mailers and fundraisers. On the event front, Mountain Rescue is launching its public campaign in December with a dinner featuring “127 Hours” subject Aron Ralston.
The progress of local capital campaigns, and the launch of new ones, speaks to a confident local nonprofit sector.
“I would hope to see it as a sign of an improving economy and recognizing the potential of wealth in this community,” said Tormohlen.
The campaigns are also a result of continued support for local nonprofits through tough economic times and the popularity of many nonprofits’ public programming, added Cristal Logan, community outreach director for the Aspen Institute and nonprofit representative on the Aspen Resort Chamber Association board.
“The nonprofits that I’ve spoken to have had very strong audience attendance at events and very strong participation among their followers and patrons,” said Logan. “So they’ve had a successful last couple years and that emboldens them from both a confidence standpoint and a money-in-the-coffers standpoint.”
As Aspen area real estate sales have rebounded, Logan noted, home buyers are likely to invest in local arts and cultural nonprofits that help boost local home values.
But whether local donors, who are also nearing the end of election season fundraising solicitations, will get tapped remains to be seen. Though these organizations each have their own stable of donors, with whom they have long-term relationships, there is a finite number of top dollar Aspen donors.
“There is quite a lot of competition for donors, especially when it comes to the top of the pyramid and the biggest donors,” Logan said. “There are fewer of them that are able to give the larger amounts.”