Atmosphere

Help Wanted

Rising demand for health and human services forces nonprofits to get more creative.

June 2009

For expecting parents who've recently lost their jobs, the costs of birth and neonatal care are daunting. But Denver Health, supported by the nonprofit Denver Health Foundation, treats patients regardless of their ability to pay. "People who've been recently laid off may not know what services are available," says Robin Engleberg, program manager at the foundation. "A situation like that can send you into a tailspin." She notes the case of a pregnant patient who was laid off after her unborn baby was diagnosed with spina bifida, a crippling bone anomaly. Now jobless with a newborn, the mother has lost her home, but the baby remains at Denver Health for treatment without financial burden.

The last year has seen a significant rise in Coloradans who need philanthropic services for the first time, including housing. This "new class of homeless" includes people whose once-stable lifestyles have been upended by economic pressures. "We hear over and over that people never thought they'd have to come here [for help]," says Mag Strittmatter, executive director of the Jeffco Action Center, a human-services nonprofit. In just a year, the center has served more than 10,000 first-time individuals, and the Denver Rescue Mission expects to serve 100,000 more meals this year than last. "We're seeing more families that are trying to prevent themselves from becoming homeless by coming to us," says the Rescue Mission's Greta Walker.

While demand for nonprofit giving is increasing, budget-dependent capabilities are dwindling. But these realities are also driving new giving trends. People who can't write $10,000 charity checks can donate creativity and energy—not fund-raising but "friend-raising," or social networking for a cause. Programs such as Denver Health Foundation's "Newborns in Need," in which community members host baby showers to provide newborns with essentials like clothing and diapers, also are becoming popular.

Instead of competing for funding, nonprofits are cooperating to ensure more efficient use of resources. The Jeffco Action Center, for example, partners with two other agencies to treat the area's uninsured. "We're finding a point where agencies can collaborate so there aren't redundancies in services offered," Strittmatter says, also noting a partnership with Red Rocks Community College that has enabled the center to enroll more than 60 clients in degree and certificate programs at the school. "So many people are having to reinvent themselves," she says. "It's a very humbling time. We look at everyone who comes in and realize it could be any one of us."