The Wood River Valley is known for its quality of life, and the nonprofit sector of the economy is a driving force for many life-enhancing programs in education, sports, health, arts and culture.

Anyone who has attended a free Sun Valley Music Festival symphony, adopted a pet locally or supplemented pantry stores by frequenting The Hunger Coalition’s foodbank or gardens has enjoyed the services of a local nonprofit.

Local philanthropic organizations are an integral part of the economic landscape, providing jobs, services, financial resources and high-quality opportunities for employees and local citizens of all ages.

Charitable organizations big and small thrive on their tax-exempt status that allows donors to provide tax-deductible donations. The donations could come in the form of cash, property or donated services. Many of these organizations also thrive on support from teams of volunteers who provide thousands of hours each year in support of good causes, often in exchange for services, food or entertainment.

“Philanthropy is key to the character of our community,” said Sally Gillespie, executive director of the recently established Spur Community Foundation, based in Ketchum. The foundation is focused on directing charitable funding toward local causes.

Since 1955, and the opening of The Gold Mine thrift store to support The Community Library in Ketchum, the number of philanthropic organizations has grown steadily in the valley, now providing 1,300 jobs, with some people remaining in the nonprofit sector for their entire careers, Gillespie said.

The Community Library brought in $6.9 million in one recent year, employing 58 people and, like so many nonprofits in the valley, provided an invaluable service to the community.

Gillespie compiled publicly available Internal Revenue Service data on incomes from 74 of the 450 registered nonprofit organizations in the Wood River Valley. The Spur list narrows the field down to only those that are incorporated in Blaine County, raise funds from the general public and provide services locally.

Gillespie found that during 2017 and 2018, about $76 million was brought in by these 501(c)(3) nonprofits per year. About $63 million of that went back out into the broader community during the same time period through expenses.

“That was a surprisingly high amount for one year in this small community,” Gillespie said. “Philanthropy is an essential economic engine in this community.”

By sector

The three highest-earning nonprofit sectors analyzed by the Spur Foundation were Health and Human Services at $17,552,585; Education (primarily private schools) at $18,407,668; and Arts and Culture organizations at $16,408,183.

Additional categories include Sports and Recreation nonprofits, which brought in $8,432,869; Animal Welfare (primarily Mountain Humane), with an income of $5,512,943; Environment, with $3,709,623; and Community Development organizations, with an income of $4,890,629.

Because the Spur Foundation excluded income to private family foundations, churches, fraternal orders and associations, a potentially significant amount of additional funding circulating in the local economy was not counted. From this group, Gillespie tallied $894,195 in annual income for what she termed “grant maker” nonprofits, including Kiwanis and Rotary clubs, which donate generously to the community. Some nonprofits would be difficult to value, reaching an indeterminate number of clients on small budgets. KDPI drop-in public radio made do with only $17,620 in income.

Job creation

The analyzed data show that the greatest nonprofit job creation sector is Health and Human Services, which supplies 399 jobs in the valley. This sector includes Higher Ground, The Advocates and the Wood River YMCA, the largest job provider in the category.

The YMCA alone brought in just over $3 million and employed 178 people, while supplying scholarship passes and after-school programs to hundreds of people.

Sports and Recreation nonprofits, including the Blaine County Recreation District and Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation, support 321 jobs.

The Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation brought in $4.1 million and employed 127 people, while training youth who will likely compete in national and international competitions.

The Education sector, which includes the I Have a Dream scholarship foundation and the WOW youth philanthropy organization, in addition to private schools, is next in line, producing 296 employment positions. The Syringa Mountain School alone brought in $1.1 million and employed 29 people.

The Arts and Culture nonprofit organizations in the valley include the Argyros Performing Arts Center, Sun Valley Music Festival and The Community Library. These groups provide 160 employment positions in the valley.

The Animal Welfare category (Mountain Humane) supports 45 employees, offers free spay-neuter clinics, has found homes for thousands of pets and is a leading voice in the state for “no-kill” shelter policies.

Environmental groups began to flourish around 1985 and now include the Wood River Land Trust and Environmental Resource Center. This sector provides 45 job positions and draws attention to preserving the valley’s most ubiquitous and perhaps most valued resource: nature.

Community Development organizations, such as the ARCH Community Housing Trust, the Blaine County Housing Authority and similar organizations, support 39 employees.

Gillespie said jobs at nonprofits are less likely to be cut during economic downturns.

“The nonprofit sector has been one of the more stable employment sectors in the valley, even when construction and the service industries dropped during the Great Recession,” she said.

Funding sources

Charitable organizations receive income from a variety of sources. Funding can come in the form of donations, tickets sales, investments or grants.

Though many nonprofit shows and programs are free, some rely more than others on what Gillespie described as “earned incomes” that produce a product; a show, skiing opportunity, workshop or school year of classes, for example, are exchanged for tickets, passes or tuition fees.

Other nonprofit organizations such as The Hunger Coalition and The Center rely primarily on “contributed income,” essentially funding from individuals and businesses to keep the organization going.

“Philanthropy in this case is helping to address the problem,” Gillespie said.

The Education and Sports and Recreation sectors bring in the highest percentage of “earned” income from ticket sales and tuition fees, followed by Community Development (largely from rents), Arts and Culture, and Health and Human Services.

Only the Education and Sports and Recreation sectors rely less upon cash contributions than other forms of income. Only a small fraction of annual income for any group comes from invested earnings and dividends.

“None of these charitable organizations have large endowments,” Gillespie said. “That means they must continually fundraise because they don’t have large reserves of funding to rely upon from year to year.”

Growth over the years

With increased demand, the overall nonprofit sector has grown by leaps and bounds over the last 30 years, more than doubling its number of nonprofit organizations in all categories since 1999.

Nonprofits have formed to address a host of concerns. From soccer teams and figure skating to meditation, military veteran recovery and global warming, they run the gamut when it comes to making a difference.

There were only a handful of charitable organizations in the valley in the 1970s, but many of those organizations are still around today. The number in some sectors has proliferated (Health and Human Services), while others sectors have remained few in number, yet seen their donations soar (Mountain Humane).

Today on the Spur Foundation list are 18 Health and Human Services organizations, 15 Arts and Culture nonprofits, 10 Education organizations, seven Environmental organizations, five Sports and Recreation groups, and one Animal Welfare group.

Unlike in some sectors of the economy, nonprofit organizations tend to stay around once they are established. While donor funds may move around, the number of nonprofits in each sector has only grown since 1980.

Email the writer: tevans@mtexpress.com

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