The 5280 Guide to Altruism in Colorado

A look at some impressive local philanthropic figures, and tips for how you can become one of them.

November 2015

—Dan Saelinger

Etched into one of our most hallowed founding documents, the pursuit of happiness has always been a sacred American right. But almost 240 years into this experiment in equality, freedom, and justice for all, our personal quest for fulfillment has often devolved into a culture of “me” that can be indifferent, hostile, and sometimes even cruel to anyone who interrupts that pursuit. Even in the ostensibly upbeat and welcoming oasis of Colorado, our goodwill can be wanting: Although our per capita income regularly ranks among the top 15 in the country, our giving sometimes lags behind our wealth.

Before you write Coloradans off as a bunch of self-involved hedonists, consider that although we haven’t always given tons of money, we do give a lot of ourselves. Centennial Staters donate organs at a rate far higher than the national average, and in 2013, almost 32 percent of us volunteered for a cause—a modest percentage, but enough to rank us 14th in the nation. And a pioneering collection of Colorado nonprofits and individuals is balancing some of our collective ambivalence by performing moving acts of kindness and outreach that transcend mere philanthropy. Among many other things, they help young people forge confident identities, teach underserved communities how to become healthier, and show would-be altruists how they can give more effectively—maybe even for a profit.

The irony of the uniquely American pursuit of happiness is that it often becomes much easier when the quest is about others rather than about yourself. This is why givers are among the most content people you’ll ever meet; they’ve figured out that the best way to satisfy one’s own passions is by helping others discover and realize theirs. “Our genetic potential for kindness and compassion is hardwired,” says professor James R.  Doty, founder of Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education. “Most of us haven’t maximized these qualities, but if you practice them with intention, your own stress levels decrease and the world becomes a completely different place.”

You’ll see examples of such intentionality in the myriad ways Coloradans are making big impacts. They’re but a small sampling of our real capacity for kindness—one that demonstrates there’s no reason widespread altruism can’t become commonplace. So stow those selfie sticks, turn your lens outward, and prepare to be inspired.


Page 2
What to look for when donating time or money
How a local 10-year-old became a sought-after activist

Page 3
Tips for staging a top-notch fundraiser
An urban gardening nonprofit helps revitalize a Denver food desert
A sampling of groups doing good throughout Colorado and beyond

Page 4
Colorado giving by the numbers
How one family's love for children turned into an international relief effort

Page 5
The Flobots' Stephen Brackett on how Youth On Record inspires kids to stay in school
Two Colorado groups show how to transform donating into investing