A frequent term we’re hearing as we check in with our past SVP Denver capacity-building investees during the COVID-19 pandemic is “pivoting.” Simply put, how do nonprofits stay relevant and operational amid workplace closures and social distancing protocols, both internally and externally?

Mile High Workshop (MHW), which made the local news early in the pandemic by donating face masks to the city of Denver, was indeed able to pivot and respond quickly. A nonprofit that teaches job and life skills to those recently released from jail, experiencing homelessness or suffering from addiction problems, MHW clients do light manufacturing, assembly and shipping.

Prior to COVID-19 changing everyone’s lives, MHW was sewing and selling tote bags made of old marketing banners used at events such as bar/restaurant openings or trade shows. But with such events screeching to a halt in mid-March, supply of old banners dwindled. Other projects either disappeared or slowed to a trickle.

MHW executive director Andy Magel knew he had to pivot. His staff would be adrift without steady work and, just as scary, facing stressful situations that could lead to relapse or recidivism. Many of them rely on public transit and would have to work far apart if at all, so how could MHW stay operational?

In a matter of days, the planets aligned to allow MHW to make the crucial pivot. Magel heard about a dollar-for-dollar matching grant opportunity through a Washington, D.C.-based foundation. He set up a Go Fund Me account at about the same time SVP Denver board member Linda Peotter reached out to see how MHW was weathering the crisis.

Fast forward to just 48 hours later, several sizable cash donations from SVP Denver partners came in, coupled with Magel’s appeal to his internal donor base, and MHW raised more than $22,000 quickly. Matched by the DC-based foundation, they had an immediate $45,000 influx of cash.

“It was a major shot in the arm that allowed us to get the materials we needed to start sewing our own masks,” says Magel. “We donate some to fellow local nonprofits such as shelters, and we’re selling some as well. Once again SVP Denver was pivotal to this success.”

Despite each having to take a 20 percent pay cut, MHW staffers remain employed. Magel arranged for counseling sessions to continue by phone

“I can’t imagine the stress Andy was under to keep his staff working so they wouldn’t backslide,” says Peotter. “As chaotic as it was, that cash infusion gave them a lifeline, as well as the positivity needed to realize they wouldn’t have to fold.”

Magel expressed huge appreciation to SVP Denver partners Justin Folkestad and Reggie Vegliante in addition to Peotter. And several others contributed time and talent during SVP Denver capacity-building initiatives over the past several years. Some highlights:

— In 2017, Linda Peotter and Reggie Vegliante helped MHW with cash flow and budgeting, as well as fundraising strategy and selecting/implementing a new donor database. Joanne Bennett helped MHW recruit a part time grant writer who has increased the caliber and rate of their grant applications

— SVP Denver partners Matt Jordan and Andy Marshall assisted with leadership development training and resources. With best practices in place and the MHW management team becoming more effective leaders, program participants have better experiences leading to less program drop out and continued success in their careers beyond the workshop.

— Between 2018-19, SVP Denver partners Julie Lerudis, Sherri Kroonenberg and Tyler Mark helped MHW draft bylaws, complete IRS filings (including 13 addenda) and attain their 501(c)(3) status. This gave MHW greater access to funding sources including easier DAF and direct stock donations, and grants from foundations.

— SVP Denver partners Ann Bradford and Jeff Ambs assisted with marketing and branding efforts, including development of a new logo, tag line, website and marketing materials. All of these elements led to increased web traffic and customer conversion for MHW. 

— An impact measurement initiative led by SVP Denver partners Justin Folkestad and Sara Bayless included developing a logic model, theory of change and metrics. Those tools led to greater success fundraising among foundations, and strengthened operations and the evaluation of new opportunities. 

— Deep board development led by SVP Denver partners Sharon Blender and Sherri Kroonenberg helped MHW board make the transition from advisory into a full governing body. Having a strong board has allowed Magel to take several things off his plate including some of the governance issues and fundraising, allowing him more time to build the business.

“We are so grateful to SVP Denver partners and for all they’ve done for us,” says Magel.