Suicide-prevention foundation copes with slowing donations

Confronted with a recession-driven decline in charitable contributions, the Western Colorado Suicide Prevention Foundation is examining ways it can reduce expenses and generate new sources of revenue.

Although that’s the norm for nonprofit organizations in today’s economy, it’s a unique and tough position for an organization with a mission of tackling a subject that’s taboo for many in the community.

“The economy is really wreaking havoc on what we would (normally) bring in,” said Sheila Linwood, executive director of the Suicide Prevention Foundation, which serves 22 counties   on the Western Slope. “Getting funds for this topic (suicide) is difficult because people don’t want to think about it.”

The financial squeeze on the foundation comes at a time when Colorado’s suicide rate is at its highest in more than 20 years. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment announced earlier this month that 940 people committed suicide in 2009, the most in the state’s history.

The number translates to 18.4 deaths per 100,000 people, the highest rate the state has seen since 1988.

After suicides in Mesa County peaked in 2007 with 40, the number dropped to 35 in 2008 and 32 in 2009, according to state data. The county’s suicide rate, though, remains higher than the state’s, Linwood said.

Between 2008 and 2009, monetary donations to the foundation dropped from 83 percent to 63 percent of its overall budget, she said. Meanwhile, the foundation has maintained the same level of expenditures even though the number of calls it handles has doubled since June 2009.

The foundation has begun charging for suicide-prevention training classes and materials it used to offer for free. And rather than purchase those materials locally, it’s buying them online in an effort to save money.

The foundation also has effectively eliminated its advertising budget, which hampers its ability to make people aware of its services.

“That’s the first one that gets cut but one we need the most,” Linwood said.

While donors aren’t giving as many dollars, they are contributing their time. The amount of in-kind donations has shot up more than 500 percent since last year, she said.


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