NONPROFIT: Metro Denver Talks, The Denver Foundation Listens

Column by David Miller

By David Miller
Posted

As a community foundation, it has been the job of The Denver Foundation since 1925 to take the pulse of the community and to make sure we are most effectively using the charitable resources contributed by generous donors over multiple generations.

To determine the community's concerns, the foundation regularly conducts outreach through listening campaigns. This week, we released the results of our most recent Listening Campaign, which asked nearly 800 residents of Metro Denver what they envision for the community's future. I'm pleased to share highlights of the results with you.

First, in sharp contrast to the tenor of the contentious national dialogue, the Listening Campaign discovered that a widely diverse range of Metro Denver residents share a generally unified vision for the future, and an understanding of the challenges that the community faces.

The Future We Envision

Our focus groups, interviews and surveys reached Metro Denver residents from a wide range of geographic areas, across the spectrums of income, racial and ethnic groups, ages, abilities and political backgrounds. 

Among the elements of their shared vision for the community's future:

  • An educational system that produces high achievement regardless of income, race, geography, ability or gender.
  • Human services that meet basic needs so that all Denver residents can experience the community's richness.
  • A diverse economy comprised of large and small businesses that provide abundant employment opportunities.
  • Affordable housing development that is sensitive to new and existing residents and that promotes diverse communities.
  • Access to high-quality, affordable healthcare that takes a preventive, holistic approach.

Challenges the Community Faces

As they shared similar visions of the community, respondents' comments about community challenges focused on three areas of need: 

  1. Education
    Forty-four percent of survey respondents most commonly identified "lack of high-quality K-12 public education" as the key barrier to a high quality of life for all metro residents. Among the challenges they identified in this area are disparities in access to high-quality education, based on income and race/ethnicity, and high drop-out rates among many populations.
  2. Basic Needs
    A large proportion of Listening Campaign respondents noted that many Metro Denver residents have difficulty meeting basic human needs. Respondents noted a number of barriers to a high quality of life in this area, including access to healthcare (identified as a key barrier by 36.3 percent of respondents), lack of affordable housing (34.5 percent) and hunger (16.6 percent).
  3. Economic Opportunity
    Not surprisingly, in today's economic climate, respondents also identified lack of economic opportunity and employment as an essential barrier to a high quality of life. Fully a third of respondents noted that lack of high-quality jobs is an area of deep concern. Challenges related to economic opportunity in Metro Denver include the growing financial gaps between rich and poor and the need to attract more new industries and large companies to relocate in Denver. At the same time, respondents identified the entrepreneurial spirit of our region as a huge strength, as evidenced by the number of thriving small and medium-sized businesses in the Metro area.

Other key areas of concern

Community members also identified several other related areas of concern. In fact, respondents often noted that these elements and those above are deeply intertwined; one cannot be solved without looking at the others.

  • Need for a more robust mass transit system.
  • Challenges to family stability.
  • Difficulties related to incorporating new immigrants into the community.
  • Patterns of gentrification and segregation by income and race in Metro Denver neighborhoods.

How Philanthropy Can Make a Difference

The survey asked members of the community to consider how the philanthropic sector -- foundations, nonprofit organizations, corporations, and individual donors -- could best take action to help meet community needs. Among the suggestions: 

  • Help to fill gaps in basic needs and human services
  • Identify community issues and provide funding as possible to address those issues
  • Advocate for community needs and particular population segments
  • Act as conveners of different community groups to encourage collaboration
  • Take risks to support innovative solutions to community problems

We hear the community clearly asking for action in the areas of education, economic opportunity, and meeting basic human needs. Of course, many leaders in all sectors are working on these issues. Our Board is now looking at where The Denver Foundation and our resources can be of most assistance, and we are continuing our conversations with the community on how best to do this.

I invite you to view the full report and your share reflections at http://denverfoundation.org/listening. We've been listening to the community since 1925, and your voice, along with the voices of other community members, is important to thefuture of Metro Denver.