Steamboat Springs The holiday season in Routt County is chock full of charity parties, toy drives and fundraising efforts for the less fortunate. But even with all the opportunities to donate and the county’s overwhelming number of nonprofit organizations, at least one recent study indicates the generosity of residents here lags behind that of folks in similar Western Slope counties.
According to the 2009 Routt County Livability Index, Routt County ranks ninth out of 10 similar counties in terms of philanthropic giving as a percentage of income. The rankings were compiled using data from Internal Revenue Service returns.
The percentage of giving locally declined between 2005 and 2006 — the last two years for which data are available — to 1.7 percent of average gross income in 2006. The figure is calculated by adding up the charitable donations listed on IRS forms from ZIP codes in the county throughout the year.
Roger Good, a small-business counselor with SCORE and the project coordinator for the livability index, said the index doesn’t draw any conclusions about why residents in the 10 counties donate as much or as little as they do. But he also said the data show there is no correlation between the per-capita income and the percentage of income donated to charity.
“To suggest there’s a tie to income, there’s a little bit of a disconnect,” he said.
Among the counties in the livability index, Pitkin County has the top per-capita income at $93,465, based on figures from 2007. Routt County is second highest with $49,890, followed by Eagle County at $49,635 per person. Chaffee County comes in last in the group with $29,453. In philanthropic giving as percentage of income, Pitkin again tops the list, followed by Eagle, then Chaffee.
Good pointed out that the one county with wealthier residents than Routt — Pitkin County — and seven of the eight counties with less-wealthy residents all give more to charitable causes than folks here do.
“So, when you look at these, what this says as it relates to giving dollars to charitable organizations, we’re not as charitable as eight other counties, and there’s very little correlation of income to giving,” he said.
The 10 Colorado counties used throughout the livability index are: Routt, Grand, Summit, Eagle, Garfield, Pitkin, Gunnison, Chaffee, San Miguel and La Plata. According to the livability index, all 10 counties have a “similar recreation component and share the benefits and challenges that accompany the changes that Routt County is experiencing.”
The perception of Routt County as less giving than other counties was backed up by a statewide study by the Colorado Nonprofit Association. Of the 20 counties in the Northwest Colorado region, again using the IRS data from 2006, Routt is 15th, below the averages for the region and the state.
Renny Fagan, president of the nonprofit association, said Routt County residents gave an average of $4,948 in 2006.
What the charities think
David Freseman, executive director of LIFT-UP of Routt County, has a hard time thinking of Routt residents as less philanthropic than perhaps they could be.
“I disagree with that perspective,” he said.
LIFT-UP relies on donations for its food bank and thrift store.
“I found that the county as a whole have very generous people, more than most communities, especially here locally,” he said. “I talk to counterparts in our same kind of area in other parts of the state, and the giving level here is way higher than it is in some of those areas. It’s a very giving community.”
Routt County United Way board member Lynaia South Orr agreed that the community is very giving, but she said the figures from the livability index shouldn’t be ignored.
“The numbers are there, and I think the numbers don’t lie,” she said.
South Orr said one factor that may not have been figured into the equation is the amount of time donated by community members.
“It does not include the amount of time and talent people contribute to nonprofits,” she said.
So far this year, the United Way has raised about 70 percent of its 2009 campaign goal, meaning it’s still $158,000 from meeting the $525,000 fundraising target. Last year, the United Way, which distributes funds to about 40 local health and human services organizations, received $500,000 worth of requests from those member agencies but had only $325,000 to give.
To encourage giving, South Orr said organizations need to better advertise the needs of the community and the roles their organizations can play in meeting those needs.
“I think education is the most important thing, including education about our level of giving, but even more importantly, the needs that our community has,” she said. “Frankly, we are not meeting our community’s needs.”