Metro DNA chose neutral fiscal sponsorship. Why?

As an emerging organization, Metro DNA had a decision to make: become a new independent 501(c)(3) non-profit or partner with a  non-profit already in existence in a “fiscal sponsorship” relationship. Both routes would have allowed Metro DNA to achieve tax-exempt status and to receive funding through donations, grants, and partner dues … so what’s the difference here and why does it matter to Metro DNA and the nonprofit sector in Colorado?

Fiscal sponsorship helps organizations like Metro DNA focus efforts on goals and projects from the get-go instead of spending the time, money, and energy needed to become and maintain a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Metro DNA stated in its Strategic Plan that choosing fiscal sponsorship will “allow Metro DNA to direct its limited staff capacity to building the organization’s infrastructure and implementing priority programming” (Metro DNA’s Three Year Strategic Business Plan). For a monthly Project Fee, Metro DNA’s fiscal sponsor, the Colorado Nonprofit Development Center (CNDC), provides a needed administrative backbone, as well as financial and legal accountability to the projects it supports, leaving Metro DNA more resources to get down to the important business of taking action on equitable nature-based solutions.

Melinda Higgs, the president and CEO of the CNDC put it this way: “We view it [fiscal sponsorship] as a partnership. We each get to do what we’re good at and leverage our core competencies. For them [the programs supported by the CNDC], it’s doing the program, making connections in the community, and raising money. For us, it’s providing infrastructure, policies, and capacity-building. It’s a much smarter use of charitable resources” (Hung, 2017).

While different pathways to funding can serve organizations in varying ways, Metro DNA’s ability to kick off coalition building, begin focusing on equitable access to nature, and jump start promoting healthy people, communities, and natural places can be attributed, in part, to the benefits of our fiscal sponsorship.

Why does Metro DNA see possibility in neutral fiscal sponsorship more broadly? 

The possibilities of fiscal sponsorship go beyond Metro DNA. The structure of fiscal sponsorship has potential to enable greater equity surrounding who can access funding. According to Rachel Burrows, the managing director of the Movement Strategy Center, a 501(c)(3) non-profit that serves as a fiscal sponsor through their Innovation Center, “Philanthropy has habits and assumptions about smaller, grassroots, front line, Black- and Brown-led work. Fiscal sponsorship helps interrupt that inequality” (Hung, 2017). 

While the ability for fiscal sponsorship to interrupt inequality relies on lots of factors, like which organizations or groups are accepted for sponsorship, organizations like the CNDC have the opportunity to “think about how to support organizations that serve in areas where…access to services is lacking” and ask “how can those groups get more support?” (Hung, 2017). Fiscal sponsors also have the opportunity to go directly to organizations they sponsor to ask what support the organizations and the communities they serve need.

Further, organizations or movements that choose fiscal sponsorship might be more able to be experimental with projects and goals (Hung, 2017). The increased flexibility surrounding what and who receives funding could enable groups and grassroots movements with bold ideas to have access to private and governmental funding without having to deal with the burden of navigating legal systems and governmental requirements on their own. 

Why Colorado Nonprofit Development Center (CNDC)?

Metro DNA sought a fiscal sponsor that would provide support from a “neutral platform.” Neutrality was and is important to Metro DNA because it allows for greater possibility for bold ideas and programs that could fit both the goal of the fiscal sponsor and the vision of Metro DNA.

The CNDC’s mission statement was broad enough for Metro DNA to want in. The goal of CNDC is to: “maximize the impact of nonprofits through fiscal sponsorship to enable all Colorado communities to thrive.” Since joining the CNDC team, Metro DNA is able to network with dozens of other projects, three of whom we have been able to work with directly: SouthWest Denver Coalition, Denver Park Trust, and the Colorado Open Space Alliance. With all these organizations under one umbrella, partnering on projects like Safe Summer Kick Off on Get Outdoors Day is easy and well-supported. 

Alongside Metro DNA, the CNDC is also engaging and investing in equity work through participation in the Chinook Fund Giving Project. The Chinook Fund Giving Project is a process that involves “work(ing) together to deepen… understanding of social justice principles in order to support grassroots organizations that build power for social change in Colorado” (How does the Giving Project work?, Chinook Fund). The process includes workshops about societal power structures, a commitment to fundraising, and training on the Chinook Fund’s democratic grant making process. 

Metro DNA is proud to be fiscally sponsored by the CNDC!

Interested in learning even more about fiscal sponsorship? Check out Priscilla Hung’s 2017 article “Is Fiscal Sponsorship Right for You?,” published in the Grassroots Fundraising Journal and posted to the CNDC’s Resources for Fiscal Sponsorship page.

2020 City Nature Challenge

Metro DNA is delighted to be co-hosting the metro region’s City Nature Challenge again this spring with Colorado Parks & Wildlife, The Nature Conservancy, Wild Foundation, Denver Audubon, and Denver Botanic Gardens.

Help us show the world how biodiverse our region is by making as many observations of as many species as possible from April 24-27, 2020!

Document nature in your backyard, by your school, in your favorite park or open space area, and upload your observations to iNaturalist, an online platform for citizen scientists. Any observations of plants, animals, and fungus found throughout our boundary will count. Get involved with an existing event or plan one of your own!

For more information, visit .

We are cultivating a Youth Advisory Council for the South Platte River

In collaboration with our partners at El Laboratorio and Lincoln Hills Cares, Metro DNA is co-hosting a youth workshop on December 27 to inform a proposed public art installation crossing the South Platte River at the new National Western Center.

Youth applications are still being accepted! Please download the flier and reach out to Paul Hellmund with El Laboratorio for more information. 

This event marks the beginning of outreach for a South Platte River Youth Advisory Council, supported by and informing this Regional Vision for People + Nature. The initial outline for what this Youth Advisory Council might look like was crafted by the TRIO Upward Bound Summer Program at Colorado State University.

A culturally diverse group of seniors and juniors from Denver Public Schools (Bruce Randolph High School, John F. Kennedy High School, and Abraham Lincoln High School) produced a Sourcebook, making recommendations for how youth and community can come together advocate for the restoration and maintenance of the South Platte River as one of Metro Denver’s key natural and cultural assets.

Here’s to another year of collaboration!

Thank you again for bringing your time, talents, and energy to bear at our Metro DNA Stakeholder Convening yesterday at The Nature Conservancy’s office in Denver! 


Meeting notes, slides, and participant contact information are available online, along with the meeting evaluation and a simple form to contribute any 2019 accomplishments, 2020 priorities, and/or collaborative project ideas that weren’t captured in writing during the meeting. Please feel free to get in touch if you have any questions or edits to the meeting notes. 

Happy holidays, and a very merry new year!

Connecting with SPARCC national partners in Atlanta

At the request of our partner, Mile High Connects, Metro DNA Alliance Director, Dana Coelho, TPL’s Parks for People Program Director, Emily Patterson, and Walk Denver’s Executive Director, Jill Locantore, attended a JUST Learning workshop on Flooding, Green Gentrification and Race this past week. Hosted by the Partnership for Southern Equity, the workshop focused on building skills and networks in support of whole-system nature-based solutions to wicked problems at the intersection of climate, health, and racial justice. 

Alongside partners from Los Angeles, Chicago, Memphis, and Atlanta we explored the history of structural racism in land use, flooding, and gentrification in Atlanta and across the US; discussed equitable green infrastructure investment with local government leaders and partners; applied new systems mapping and multi-solving tools to our local and shared challenges; and saw some great work on the ground at the Outdoor Activity Center that brings together green infrastructure installation, workforce development, art, and environmental education in a community-based setting.

Denver is one of several cities across the US participating in the Strong, Prosperous, and Resilient Communities Challenge (SPARCC). The initiative’s long-term goal is to change the way metropolitan regions grow, invest, and build through integrated, cross-sector approaches that benefit low-income people and communities of color. Toward this goal, SPARCC is investing in and amplifying local efforts to ensure that new investments reduce racial disparities, build a culture of health, and prepare for a changing climate.

Project Update: Catalyst Fund Grant Award!

We are proud to announce Metro DNA’s selection as one of 14 recipients of the Network for Landscape Conservation’s Catalyst Fund grant!

These financial resources and participating as a member of this national collaborative conservation network will move forward our work to co-create a Regional Vision for People + Nature in a big way and support the creation of a Youth Advisory Council focused on the South Platte River as a significant and cross-jurisdictional environmental and cultural resource. The Youth Advisory Council will be build in partnership with Colorado State University, Lincoln Hills Cares, and El Laboratorio.

Partner Highlight: Denver Zoo

denver zoo logo featuring a male lion

Working to Conserve Local Wildlife with Ongoing Conservation Projects

Bison roaming freely, pikas popping up every so often, and billowing grass. This is just part of the Colorado Front Range, an ecosystem within a few hours’ drive for the average Denverite. The Denver Zoo’s Field Conservation Department works with government and non-profit organizations and the community to preserve spaces for people and wildlife. 

Stephanie Stowell, Vice President of Learning and Engagement at the Denver Zoo, explains that, “Underneath it all, we are a conservation and education organization” with a goal to “engage and inspire people to have a deeper sense and understanding and care and empathy for animals”. 

While the Denver Zoo’s Field Conservation Department has staff working in places such as Peru, Mongolia, and Botswana, it also has active conservation teams in right here in Colorado. One of the two local conservation efforts is the Front Range Program, which encompasses the Eastern slope of the Southern Rocky Mountains and the neighboring grasslands, including Denver. Through local engagement the Denver Zoo is able to show citizens the impact this has on the region. 

The Denver Zoo’s Field Conservation Department works with city, state, and federal organizations to “reduce threats and promote the resilience of Colorado’s wildlife and ecosystems”. The Front Range Project aims to “conserve and restore the function of grassland ecosystems across the state” through restoration and management of bison populations and habitats, monitoring, and supporting the development of Colorado’s highest elevation wildlife byway.

A vital aspect of these conservation projects is to get community members involved, so the Denver Zoo works with local organizations to train citizens to take an active role in monitoring nature along the Front Range. So far, the Front Range Project has engaged 300 middle and high school students in programming and contributed to the longest running citizen science database. With its continued work, the Denver Zoo encourages everyone to care about the nature that surrounds them every day. Next time you are at the Denver Zoo, remember the role it has in conserving local nature. 

The Denver Zoo partners with Metro DNA as a way to further bring conservation and nature access to communities, giving local relevance to the Denver Zoo’s global mission to “secure a better world for animals through human understanding”. 

photo of stephanie stowell and an orangutan at denver zoo

On a personal note, we wish our long-standing leader and dear friend, Stephanie Stowell, the best as she and her husband relocate to Albuquerque, New Mexico. She will be overseeing zoo operations and programs at the Albuquerque BioPark.

Thank you, congratulations, and we will miss you!!

Partner Highlight: Environmental Learning for Kids

Creating opportunities for youth of all backgrounds to enjoy nature

Environmental Learning for Kids LogoInterview with Loretta Pineda, Executive Director, Environmental Learning for Kids (ELK)
By: Ben Soofer, Maddie Buel, Brady Olcott, and Maggie Albro (University of Denver)

Dondre Smallwood is a freshman currently enrolled at Colorado State University, but his road to get there started nine years prior. Growing up in Montbello, Dondre lacked access to the resources for engaging with nature until he was introduced to Environmental Learning for Kids.

Dondre Smallwood climbingThroughout nine years of being involved with ELK, Dondre was given the opportunity to fish, hike, camp, visit Mesa Verde, and go to museums in Denver. With the help of ELK, Dondre improved his skills in leadership and self-development.

“Environmental Learning for Kids has helped me see that just because I am a young black man or a minority it does not mean that I cannot get into a good college or get a good job. ELK has given me, and continues to give me, the tools to help and encourage me to keep moving on during hard times in life. They let me know that I can become a useful source in our community and that I am important. I am a Daniels Fund Scholar and that dream was made possible by ELK. Coming into this program is like meeting another family.” – Dondre Smallwood Read more

Stakeholder Convening Summary

Metro DNA Stakeholder WorkshopThank you to Metro DNA partner, the Denver Botanic Gardens, for hosting our Stakeholder Convening on Monday, April 8, and thank you to everyone who participated in a full day of workshops, presentations, and collaboration! This semi-annual gathering is an opportunity for partners and friends to get together and network, learn, and co-create collaborative projects.

We started the day in collaboration with the University of Denver’s Grand Challenges Environmental Sustainability Cohort by exploring collaborative projects around the Metro Denver region to ground and expand their understanding of what is being done, what can be done, and how to measure our collective impact and progress toward shared goals.

Next, Dr. Jennifer Neale, Director of Research & Conservation at the Gardens, shared current projects including the Colorado Mycoflora Project, seed collection efforts, and BioBlitzes on the Highline Canal.

After lunch, the meeting turned toward updates and dialog around our primary collaborative projects: Regional Vision for People + Nature and Nature Narratives. Table-based dialog was facilitated by CU Boulder graduate students and members of the Metro DNA Steering Committee. Many of the ideas, questions, and opportunities shared cut across both projects. The conversations also surfaced needs to better define and communicate expectations of and benefits of becoming a Metro DNA partner and serving on committees and project teams.

Read more