Denver Active Gives Back

For male philanthropists between the ages of 20 and 39, the Denver Active 20-30 Children's Foundation acts as the first step in a lifetime of service.
When current president Randy Roberts got involved with the Denver Active 20-30 Foundation five years ago, it was because he had a desire to give back to his community.

"But," he says, "I had no idea where to plug in." Working with Denver Active, Roberts has had an opportunity to see charities and causes up-close, and to "understand what it means to really engage."

The foundation has improved the lives of thousands of area youth since its inception and now gives close to $1 million to over 50 children's charities annually. While a lot of folks are familiar with Denver Active's main fundraiser, the Schomp BMW Denver Polo Classic, the organization itself hasn't been as widely known.

Early yearsThe annual Polo Classic is Denver Active's primary fundraiser.

In 1987, a handful of Denver-based, male professionals came together under the auspices of Kent Stevinson to add some local flair to an established national organization.

"Stevinson and his group wanted to take what had already been built and do something unique in Denver," explains Roberts. The founding members, continues Roberts, "invested a ton of time and resources into creating our chapter, and then they threw the very first Polo Classic, raising and donating $1,200."

This year's 28th annual Polo Classic -- a three-day event held at the Polo Reserve in Littleton, June 26 to 28 -- is still Denver Active's primary fundraiser, and the organization expects to raise around $800,000 at what's become the nation's largest charity polo tournament, drawing upwards of 5,000 patrons and illustrating "what a great idea and a lot of good, hardworking people can do," says Roberts.

But he cautions, "We're not just a group of event planners." Denver Active is unique in several respects. For starters, it "drains the bank account every year." Every dollar Denver Active raises is promptly and thoughtfully invested into the community.    

The chapter has grown to nearly 100 active members, including attorneys, physicians, entrepreneurs and financial advisors, and Denver Active asks a lot of its constituents. Prospective members are screened during a yearlong interview where they'll ascend from provisional to active status. Once active, they volunteer an incredible amount of time -- 100 to 300-plus hours a year per member -- in order to meet ambitious fundraising goals.

Denver Active has started being more professional in the way it goes about fundraising, says Roberts. "It's not just events anymore. We're getting better about approaching foundations, too."

The Denver Foundation is one of Denver Active's newest matching partners. The two organizations teamed up last year, and says Denver Foundation VP of Operations and Communications Rebecca Arno, "The Denver Foundation is delighted to partner with Denver Active 20-30. These young men are training to become leading philanthropists in our community, and they provide a terrific amount of funding to help children's charities."

"We make roughly fifty grants to fifty local charities ranging in size from $5,000 to $250,000," explains Roberts -- the larger amounts are usually reserved for charities Denver Active has supported for decades; Denver Kids Inc., an educational counseling program solving the high school dropout crisis, is one such beneficiary.

About 150 local children's charities apply for grants annually, and Denver Active members are intimately involved in the screening process; they do site reviews and meet with prospective grantee board members and stakeholders in order to understand how Denver Active's money might help the charity have a greater impact.

"We've really honed what I think is a world-class grant review process," says Roberts. "We do a pretty comprehensive due diligence, and we can because we have so many members."

Grantees must align with Denver Active's overarching mission, which focuses on four categories: Education and Business, Love of Sport, Community Development and Health and Wellbeing. "The idea is to improve the lives of at-risk children with a whole child approach," explains Roberts.

As such, Denver Active provides grants to a truly diverse list of charities and nonprofits, including Urban Peak, KIND, Rocky Mountain Children's Law Center, the Rocky Mountain Children's Choir, Mi Casa Resource Center and cityWILD.  

Denver Active 20-30 President Randy Roberts says he had a desire to give back to his community.Board service and volunteerism

Denver Active's members are also engaged through board service. "If we write a grant to an organization, we want to help that organization as much as we can," Roberts says, adding, "We're not just providing the treasure, but time and talent at a strategic level, too."

Members work hard, and they also get a lot in return as they learn what it means to be a steward, and how to impact a nonprofit from within. Some members have had a chance to learn even more, thanks to an exciting new partnership with Social Venture Partners Denver.

Roberts and his team were talking shop with Arno when an idea sparked: "What if we could raise and donate $1 million and also match those dollars with volunteerism?"

By teaming up with SVP Denver, part of Denver Foundation's collective philanthropy efforts, Denver Active was able to add another arm to its robust program -- this one designed to build capacity for select nonprofits.

"We had about a dozen members who were willing to contribute a significant amount of time to engage two charities -- an after-school program and an organization serving drug-addicted families -- to help them with capacity building," Roberts says.

These members spend at least one day a month with the selected nonprofits, working on serious strategic issues. One of the nonprofits, for example, is looking at a merger; the other's tackling fundraising. "Essentially," says Roberts, "We've added a consulting leg to our services; our members are rolling up their sleeves to help these nonprofits become better versions of themselves."

The partnership launched in January, and is still in pilot mode. Five months in, Roberts says, "The feedback from the nonprofits, SVP Denver and our members is overwhelmingly positive and indicates everybody around the table is being enriched."

"We're not there yet," Roberts says about the lofty goal of providing $1 million in volunteerism. "If you were to quantify this year, we'll probably be at about $250,000 of service donations, and we're hoping to expand that."

In case you're curious -- yes, members get booted when they turn 40. "Forties usually represent the prime earning years, but we say you have to move on because we want this to be an organization that's about the first step into philanthropy," says Roberts.   

"It's a significant commitment," he adds. "But for me, behind family and work, this is the most important thing I do."

This story was produced in partnership with The Denver Foundation as part of a series on giving and philanthropy. Read more stories from this series here.

Read more articles by Jamie Siebrase.

Jamie Siebrase is a Denver-based freelance writer who who writes about art, culture, and parenting for Westword and Colorado Parent.
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