Decentralized Giving at El Pomar (Colorado)

  • Local Projects
  • 2003

Spencer Penrose went west in 1892 to seek his fortune, and found it in copper mines, then went on to build important institutions across his adopted home state of Colorado, like the Broadmoor hotel and the Pikes Peak highway. Upon their deaths, he and his wife, Julie, left most of their money to the Colorado Springs foundation they established to benefit their region, known as El Pomar. By 2003, the foundation’s endowment had grown to over $500 million.

At that point, the El Pomar board established a major new mechanism to draw on local knowledge and make sure that their grants included priorities important to each of the communities across their state. They divided their state into sub-regions (currently 11 in number), and created in each one a council of local community leaders. Every regional council includes one member of the El Pomar board, plus residents from the locality: businessmen, college presidents, elected officials, newspaper publishers, nonprofit leaders, and so forth. Each regional board has the authority to distribute a few hundred thousand dollars of grants themselves, in addition to advising the mother foundation on what in their area would be most useful to support on a larger scale.

The councils allow a better sense of what Colorado’s counties and smaller towns need to improve their quality of life. They help El Pomar identify the best operators and innovators, particularly in rural areas that might otherwise get overlooked. And they encourage the transfer of good ideas from one place to another. As of 2014, the regional councils had helped El Pomar distribute $10 million of highly focused aid.