A Local Launch

Started in the late-1990s by Tom Murphy and two colleagues, the American Institute of Avalanche Research Education (AIARE) was transformational for advancing avalanche education in the United States. Prior to AIARE, there was no nationally-recognized curriculum for avalanche education. AIARE developed and continues to develop standardized curriculum for a complete program of avalanche courses that meets the needs of students at all levels; from recreational to professional, from novice to advanced.

As Tom recalls, “CFGV was instrumental in getting me on a path toward really understanding what a nonprofit is, how to structure it correctly, what to expect, and what not to expect. Pam Montgomery [then-Executive Director] was always a resource for questions that I had. I felt like I could call any time to problem-solve and ask for advice. Despite prior experience in the business world, I had a lot to learn about the particulars of nonprofits. The reality is that it ain’t easy!”

Tom relied on his local community foundation to build a successful organization. What once was a small operation based in Crested Butte is now a global organization providing avalanche education to more backcountry travelers than any other single avalanche education organization in the United States.

“The fact that we’re still going and thriving as a nonprofit this many years later is a testament to those early foundational pieces that were put in place by CFGV, along with a lot of hard work,” Tom says.

CFGV is a member of a regional partnership that hosts Rural Philanthropy Days (RPD) every few years. In addition to opportunities for learning nonprofit best practices and interacting with colleagues from the Western Slope, RPD is a chance for nonprofit leaders to spend time with funding entities from the Front Range – large foundations such as the Anschutz Foundation, the Boettcher Foundation, the Colorado Trust, and more. Tom participated in RPD on more than one occasion, and the experience still stands out.

During a one-on-one conversation with one of the RPD presenters, Tom was exploring options for a tagline. It was during that conversation that the two of them zeroed in on something that would be succinct and make a statement. “Saving lives through avalanche education” came out of that RPD brainstorm and is still AIARE’s mission today.

“It’s eye-opening and informative to see the nonprofit industry-at-large. I learned a lot. There were days that I thought, ‘I don’t know if we’ll be here next year!’ Nonprofits are complicated. People aren’t just randomly writing checks. Over time, we built relationships with donors and discovered ways to diversify our revenue. In one of those early years, gross receipts were $700. In 2020, they were over $1,000,000. It took time, patience, and adaptability,” Tom explained.

Tom and his co-founders had a vision and recognized a gap needing to be filled in their field. They brought passion, expertise and dedication together to start a nonprofit organization, and early on, Tom recognized that all of the passion in the world wasn’t enough to build a strong organization.

The CFGV team specializes in quiet work behind the scenes to strengthen local nonprofits. Answering the frantic phone call from an overwhelmed Executive Director. Troubleshooting governance and fundraising challenges. Digging into grant applications and grant opportunities. Connecting nonprofit staff and boards with resources to excel. CFGV is here for more than money. Tom recognized the importance of “more than money” early on and leveraged what he learned to build a healthy and lasting organization.

CFGV is proud to have played a part in the success of AIARE, and we look forward to continuing to support our nonprofit community for years to come. CFGV is “Here for Good,” and this starts with supporting the backbone of our community – our nonprofits.

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