When local business owner Jonny Radding approached Local First Foundation about launching the La Plata Impact Fund, he had just finished reading the book “Let My People Go Surfing,” written by the founder and owner of Patagonia. In the book, Yvon Chouinard detailed an alliance of businesses that contributed at least 1% of their net annual sales to vetted environmental organizations. Radding was inspired to give back to La Plata County after having had success himself as the co-owner and co-founder of Durango Organics.
Radding was not alone. At the same time, local business owners John Shaw and Tim Turner were also thinking of ways that businesses could collectively give back and how to make a big dent in social inequity and systemic issues in the community. So, the La Plata Impact Fund was created in 2021 as a way for area businesses and individuals to take the 1% pledge and give back to the community in a meaningful way.
This is not your average community fund. This is not simply a savings account that may be earning a higher than average interest rate and managed by a foundation. The founders of La Plata Impact Fund set out an intention at the beginning of the year, deciding which issue to tackle before fundraising toward the annual $1 million goal. Then the Foundation gets to work, helping not only to fundraise and educate, but acting as boots on the ground attending community meetings, researching the topic of interest and talking with leaders, business owners and residents alike. The founders then choose what projects receive funding based on the current needs and extensive information about how the money will be used.
This fund is a reflection of the tight-knit community we live in and how we help each other and make our county more resilient. These business owners and leaders believe that this fund is also a way to demonstrate gratitude to an area that has brought them prosperity, pooling dollars to reinvest in a better community.
In 2022, the founders decided to target affordable and workforce housing as the issue of the year. Then in February, the Westside Mobile Home Park residents needed $535,000 to close the deal on the park purchase. La Plata Impact Fund stepped up to meet the challenge. Helping the residents secure a more bright future for their families has galvanized the founders’ ambitions. As Alejandra Chavez, the Westside Mobile Home Park resident, activist, and now property manager spoke at the fund launch event last month, there wasn’t a dry in the house. Business owners and individuals could see what their collective dollars had done in real time and in a relatively short amount of time.
There is more work to do for the La Plata Impact Fund as more businesses and individuals are encouraged to become a part of this locals helping locals effort. Taking the 1% pledge means that a business or individual is saying they will give back to the community at least 1% of their revenue and that at least 25% of that will go to the fund. This means that if someone is making $1,000,000 revenue, $10,000 will be reinvested into the community, and $2,500 of that will go toward the fund’s $1 million annual fundraising goal.
The fund has $465,000 more to go this year toward affordable/workforce housing. However, the founders are already eyeing 2023 with a renewed goal of fundraising $1 million to apply toward a different area of need for the community. With local and national discussions around the tremendous challenges in mental health, child care, health care and education, there are plenty of ways that local businesses can give back. It’s a matter of coming together. Determined to make an impact.
Sarah Tober is executive director of the Local First Foundation.