Money Market
Mark Andresen

Money Market

Three agencies that collect donations from private- and public-sector employees for distribution to hundreds of good causes will ring in 2002 with new business. A partnership between Community Shares of Colorado, Community Health Charities of Colorado and Caring Connection recently won a lucrative bid to manage the workplace fundraising campaigns for both City of Denver and state employees.

This marks the first time that anyone other than Mile High United Way, the oldest and largest agency of its kind in the metro area, has handled the job, and United Way executives were stunned by the decision.

"We've had this relationship for the last fourteen years, and we thought we had a pretty solid track record," says Kelley Cahill, group vice president for the organization. "We felt we submitted a very competitive bid.... Even though this won't affect us organizationally, it's one of those relationships we value, and we're not happy to lose it. We're looking forward to seeing [the partnership's proposal] so that we can learn from it and submit a better proposal next time."

It could be five years before United Way gets a chance to bid again, however. The city and state employee campaign committees, which jointly evaluated the proposals, gave the partnership a three-year contract with an option to extend the relationship for an additional two. The partnership will begin managing the campaigns this month.

Steve Hutt, chair of the Denver Employees Combined Campaign Committee, says the choice had nothing to do with United Way's performance. "We have no dissatisfaction with United Way. Actually, our campaign [in 2001] exceeded our goal and was better than the year before," he says. (City employees raised $520,000 by late December, compared with $488,000 in 2000.) "United Way has had a fourteen-year turn, and the partnership was equally equipped to run the campaign." Altogether, 49,000 city and state workers gave about $2 million last year, all of it funneled through United Way.

What appealed to the employee committees about the partnership's proposal was that it provided more for less money and contained new ideas. Mile High United Way's 2002 proposal was for $90,000, and although the partnership's bid was the same, it included putting full-time rather than part-time employees on the job. Hutt says one of the group's new ideas is to solicit employee contributions via e-mail. "That's something we haven't done before," he says.

Every year, employees at workplaces ranging from private law firms to publicly traded companies to city and state government entities give their employees the opportunity to donate to charities by way of automatic payroll deductions. Employers hire nonprofit groups called "federations" to handle the deductions and make sure that the donations go to the specific organizations chosen by the employees.

Although Mile High United Way is a charity itself, it also collected $32 million from employees at 700 local businesses in 2000; it funneled that money to more than ninety member organizations, including the Boys and Girls Clubs of Metro Denver and the Colorado AIDS Project.

The three federations now working with the city and the state are much smaller in comparison. Community Shares raised almost $1 million in 2000 from employees in 150 businesses; the money goes to a diverse mix of 104 organizations, including the Cat Care Society, 9 to 5 Working Women Education Fund and El Centro Su Teatro. Caring Connection raised approximately $425,000 last year from 125 businesses; it benefits 36 nonprofits focused on helping people become self-sufficient, such as Alternatives Pregnancy Center, Seniors' Resource Center and Denver Indian Health and Family Services. Community Health Charities gathered about $1.2 million at more than a hundred workplaces; the money benefits 37 health-related nonprofits.

For many years, city and state employees could donate only to United Way's member organizations. But the smaller federations complained and were "instrumental in opening city and state [employee giving] campaigns to non-United Way charities," says Community Shares executive director Greg Troug.

In 1988, Mayor Federico Peña allowed other federations to solicit donations in order to give employees a broader selection. This meant that United Way would deduct the money from an employee's paycheck and, in many cases, give it to one of the other federations, which in turn would send the money to the specified charity. Peña also created the Denver Employees Combined Campaign to oversee the process; the Colorado Combined Campaign was created the same year at the state level.

Community Health Charities of Colorado, Community Shares of Colorado and Caring Connection later joined forces under an umbrella organization called the Partnership for Colorado Campaign Coalition. The partnership had been planning to submit a proposal to manage the campaigns for "quite some time," says Community Health Charities of Colorado president Mary DeGroot, a former Denver city councilwoman and mayoral candidate. "We're thrilled that we were selected."

Troug believes the contract will help the three organizations get out from under Mile High United Way's shadow. "This provides legitimization for us that we didn't have before," he says. "I think Mile High United Way is getting used to not being the only horse in the corral."


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