Michael Hannigan, CEO of the Pikes Peak Community Foundation, will retire in December after 16 years as head of the organization. The fourth-generation Coloradan, former Colorado College administrator and educator spoke about turning an idea into a foundation with a cumulative community impact of $150 million.
How did you end up CEO of the Pikes Peak Community Foundation?
I started 16 years ago when the board of the old Colorado Springs Community Trust, which was founded in 1928 as a private foundation, realized Colorado Springs was the largest city over 100,000 people that didn’t have a community foundation. They asked me to start [PPCF]. I sat with a pencil at my kitchen table in 1998 and it’s been a wild ride ever since. We started with almost nothing. … Last year we had 12,000 different donors to the foundation for about 120 different projects. We have some work to do, but we’ve dramatically increased the visibility and awareness of the foundation in the community because we work with everybody, from the very wealthy who are working on the charitable parts of estate planning down to someone who comes to the Venetucci Farm stand for a head of lettuce.
What does PPCF do in Colorado Springs?
Community foundations are power tools for philanthropy in multiple ways. Our board allowed us to create a community foundation here that allowed us to be innovative in how we approach philanthropy and the community. We fill a really different niche. We’re basically a grant-making foundation, but also a foundation that can help individuals and families and businesses figure out how to do really high quality charitable giving. We’re a service provider, we’re a source of expertise, a source of knowledge, a grant-maker to nonprofits in the Pikes Peak region. … If someone can think it up and it involves philanthropy, we can help make it happen.
What sets the community foundation apart in a city with so many nonprofits?
We own and operate some big projects, like Venetucci Farm, Aspen Valley Ranch and Pikes Peak Urban Gardens. That’s kind of unique to community foundations, and other community foundations in America have looked to us to start doing that. We realized five or six years ago the potential impact of owning and operating those was far greater than if we just sent grants out to organizations working in those sectors. Venetucci in the last seven years has gone from an abandoned farm given to us by Nick and Bambi Venetucci to a farm that serves tens and tens of thousands of kids and families and community members. We look for the maximum impact for every dollar we have to spend. … We also have a robust fiscal sponsorship program set up to help social entrepreneurs who have great ideas, a robust grant-making program like the Ingenuity Grant. … We’re like a nonprofit entrepreneurial incubator.
One thing we’re very concerned about is the state of the health of people.
[/pullquote]There seems to be an emphasis on health and the environment in many of the foundation’s initiatives. Was that on purpose?
One thing we are very concerned about is the state of the health of people in America and particularly in the Pikes Peak region. … We look at food, health, wellness, nutrition and fitness. … For instance we’re supporting a new project called the Pikes Peak Small Farms Project, urban farms scattered around the community. We also support organizations like LiveWell Colorado Springs … We have a great partnership with UCCS and their sports nutrition and health sciences. We send grant money there and they assign their grad students to work with us on health, wellness, nutrition and fitness.
How involved is PPCF with the local business community?
We work really closely with the Business Alliance. We’re heavily involved on the side of the business community that supports entrepreneurs. We have a dynamic program to support social entrepreneurism. … We want to push ahead and be innovative on the nonprofit side and be there to support the for-profit sector. … We try to stay dialed into the local business climate and feel we should run like a highly sustainable business.
What would make philanthropic projects easier in this city?
I would love to see us become an even more philanthropic community. Until the creation of the community foundation, I don’t think there was a real culture of personal philanthropy in the community. Everybody expected El Pomar and a handful of wealthy donors to solve all the problems. The most effective communities in America are the ones where philanthropy is accessible to everybody across the spectrum. … One of our goals is to create the perception that anybody can be a philanthropist by devoting time, money, expertise or bringing some level of involvement to the community.
What are your plans following retirement?
I want to work on five projects instead of 500 projects. My family is here and we love being here. I’d like to work with a few nonprofits that want to revolutionize how they perceive themselves and how they do business. I think I can do that. I have 35 years’ experience in the nonprofit sector and would love to be able to share that insight with nonprofits. There’s a book called “Good to Great.” I want to work with nonprofits that want to go from good to incredible and help them re-imagine, rejuvenate and revitalize what they are doing for the community. I’d also like to mentor Colorado College kids who want to become social entrepreneurs.