The First 20 Years
The Interfaith Alliance of Colorado was founded in 1998 by a group of faith leaders from multiple backgrounds who were frustrated that their multiple faith voices were not being represented in the public sphere- specifically in politics or media. This group was determined that faith should be a force for good in public life- so they began to bring people together to engage in advocacy at the state capitol, to build stronger relationships, and celebrate multiple faith traditions. Key partners and leaders over the years were Cameron Methodist Church, Jefferson Unitarian Church, Park Hill United Church of Christ, Bill Kirton, Chuck Mowery, Sigrid Higdon, Maureen McCormick, James Laurie, Greg Movesian, Nathan Woodliff Stanley, Jamie Arnold, and Ved Nanda.
After September 11, 2001 The Interfaith Alliance of Colorado rallied around the Muslim community in Denver who was experiencing a backlash of discrimination. They helped organize a gathering of more than a thousand people who came to the Colorado Muslim Society to stand in solidarity - and to cry together for the pain the country was experiencing. Stories are told of the Interfaith Music Festival which provided an opportunity for people to come together across traditions to celebrate and enjoy music from multiple traditions.
In 2007, The Interfaith Alliance of Colorado became the leading faith voice working for full rights and equality for GLBTQ people, organizing people of faith to advocate for first civil unions, and eventually marriage rights for GLBTQ people (realized in 2014). The Public Policy Commission of TIA-CO worked to discern positions on bills and to advocate at the state capitol around a broad range of issues including assuring public money was not given to private religious schools through vouchers, and to advocate against wage theft.
In 2012-2013 The Interfaith Alliance of Colorado lost key grant funding as a primary funder changed the focus of their funding. Further, the economic downturn of 2008-2009 finally caught up to the non-profit sector. At this time the Board and Staff did deep soul searching to determine if there was still a ‘need for the organization’. The group determined that the needs of the time were real, and that they would make key changes in order to re-build and ensure financial and organizational sustainability.
In the fall of 2014, Amanda Henderson joined the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado as executive director. The first year of the leadership transition was spent primarily listening to the community, learning the landscape of progressive advocacy, and testing new ideas. Key feedback revealed the vital value of the progressive faith advocacy work of The Interfaith Alliance of Colorado. An evaluation of the ‘interfaith’ landscape revealed that key partners such as Abrahamic Initiative and Multicultural Mosaic Foundation held strength in ‘interfaith dialogue’, but were not able to outwardly adress ‘political issues’. Other faith based advocacy organizations, were unable to engage in work on some issues such as GLBTQ rights and equality and women’s reproductive choice.
This revealed a clear role for The Interfaith Alliance of Colorado as an organization of people from multiple faith backgrounds (or no faith background) committed to education and advocacy around rights and equality. Taking a bold, grass roots approach we were able to be nimble and responsive to the needs of our community. We were able to be present and participate in activism that was rising to the surface in the moment.
In 2014-2016 our country and our community saw multiple tragedies including police killings of black people, a church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, a shooting in a Planned Parenthood office in Colorado Springs, attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, and a mass shooting in a gay latinx nightclub in Orlando. With each of these events The Interfaith Alliance of Colorado engaged in the work of bringing people together for healing, for rallies and vigils, and to march the streets and cry out for change. Responsiveness to community tragedy is in our DNA, beginning with our response to the attacks on September 11, 2001. We continue to fill this role and are seen within the community as a respected and reliable resource to respond to pressing community needs.
In 2015 The Interfaith Alliance of Colorado received a catalytic grant from the Gill Foundation which allowed us to grow. We brought a bold vision and a clear request, and they took a chance to support our vision. Through this grant we were able to bring more public programming, more people to engage, and increase in staff time and support. We tested new ideas including bringing paid ‘Coordinators’ from multiple areas of the state tasked with asking people to sign on to be a ‘Force For Good’, and to speak out against discrimination in the name of religion. Additionally, we trained ‘Faith Spokespeople’ to increase our public voice and presence. Through trying new things we learned what worked and what did not. We found success with trainings and with an increased network.
The trust put into the organization by the Gill Foundation attracted additional Foundation support. Soon we were able to build additional grant funding from the Colorado Health Foundation, the Buck Foundation, and the Denver Foundation and others.
The 2016 presidential election impacted The Interfaith Alliance of Colorado as we saw a marked increase in divisive and hateful vitriol in our politics and policies. We were called upon to respond to Executive Orders that discriminated against people based on religion, immigration status, sexual orientation and gender. Community leadership was needed to bring people together and to resist threats to freedom and equality. While the pace was daunting, there were ample opportunities to fulfill our organizational mission.
In 2017 we took on the role of a support institution in catalyzing social change projects. Our program, Facing Racism, was developed and then launched in partnership with Soul2Soul (a black women led anti-racism organization). Seeing a clear need in the community, we supported the initiation of a new nonprofit, the Colorado Village Collaborative, in order to launch Denver’s First Tiny Home Village, Beloved Community Village. Through bringing together vital partners, building public and political will, and providing faith communities opportunities to live their mission in the community, we found a new way to live out our own organizational mission. ‘Catalyzing Social Change’ fits our mission by bringing people together across our differences in order to stand with those most marginalized, improve our local communities, and disrupt systemic oppression.
As we move into 2018 we see that the rapid growth we have experienced over the past three years has placed many new opportunities before us. We have a strong and experienced staff with a reputation for bold and creative leadership. We also see that we are in a time when we must diversify our funding, increase our ‘deliberate’ planning structures, and grow and strengthen our Board of Directors. As we do these things, we will be able to build our partnerships, mobilize faith communities, and increase our impact to bring lasting social change.
The Next 20 and Beyond
As we enter the twentieth year of work together as The Interfaith Alliance of Colorado we see a strong organization with potential to continue to grow in order to speak and act for rights, equity and opportunity for all. What began as a few people from multiple religious backgrounds with a desire to have a greater voice in the public sphere, has become a strong and credible organization able to both address immediate needs in our community, and provide greater vision, imagination, and creativity to address our shared obstacles.
Over the past three years, we have grown significantly. Growth has been a result of increased opportunity through grant funding and leadership development, and increased need in a divisive and volatile political environment. As we look to the future of The Interfaith Alliance of Colorado we see a litany of needs in relation to continued threats to rights and equity, and real possibilities to engage faith communities on the work of coming together to address our common concerns. In order to fully grow into our potential and to fulfill our long held mission, it is important that we step back, survey our current internal and external contexts, and develop intentional goals, systems, and strategies. Over the past year we have embarked on just this process. Through surveying our community and meeting with stakeholders, we gleaned information on our strengths and assets. We listened to stories about people’s experience with our organization and engaged people’s imagination to learn what might be possible as we strengthen our foundation and capacity.
We come to the next stage of this process full of gratitude for the history of The Interfaith Alliance of Colorado, inspired with hope for the potential this organization holds, and committed to the daily work required to live into our vision for a state where all people have the opportunity to live the life they hope to live.
Goals of the Strategic Planning Process
1. Re-articulate our mission and goals
2. Articulate ‘who we serve’
3. Name hoped for ‘Outcomes’
4. Identify the systems and structures that will provide both stability and freedom in order to live into our mission.
5. Identify resources (human and capital) needed to achieve our mission
6. Name plan, timeline, and accountability for developing structures and systems
Mission, Vision, Values
Mission: The Interfaith Alliance of Colorado promotes justice, religious liberty and interfaith understanding through building relationships in order to educate, advocate, and catalyze social change.
Vision: We envision a society where all people are free and supported to live the life they wish for. We imagine faith communities from many traditions and backgrounds who are committed to work grounded in our shared values, in order to engage in collaborative action to dismantle systemic oppression. We see people coming together across our many differences to build authentic, ‘got your back’ friendships, to celebrate together in moments of joy, to grieve together in times of pain, and to advocate and work together to improve people’s lives.
- Religious freedom (nondiscrimination)
- Faith as a force for good
- Equal rights & freedom
- Equity & opportunity for all
- Racial justice
- Economic justice
- Broad and intentional inclusion
Overview of the Process
In May of 2017 The Interfaith Alliance of Colorado hired consultant Carolyn Love of Kabaya Consulting and formed a Strategic Planning Core Team. With the Support of Dr. Love, goals of the strategic planning process were named, a questionnaire was developed and tested, a list of key stakeholders was defined, and a timeline was set. Board members and staff were each assigned a list of stakeholders to interview. Of the 75 stakeholders identified, 25 interviews were obtained between June and October of 2017. Once interview information was gathered, the Core Team reviewed all surveys, and highlighted themes and topics and potential ideas. These themes and ideas were used to determine ‘Guiding Questions’ which would discern the goals and areas of focus.
Once Guiding Questions were named, the staff met to determine the areas of focus that would need to be intentionally clarified and mobilized in order to live into the mission of The Interfaith Alliance of Colorado. These guiding questions and areas of focus were brought to the Board of Directors at a retreat to further process, refine, and deliver feedback.
After the areas of focus had been further clarified, the staff determined what actions were currently being done in each area, and what potential actions could be taken in each area. Strategies and tactics were then clarified and prioritized for submission to the Board of Directors.
1. What would it take to assure that The Interfaith Alliance of Colorado is boldly inclusive, authentically interfaith, and truly statewide?
2. What would it take to build a ‘million dollar organization’ that has broad support, diversified, and sustainable revenue streams, and influence and credibility throughout the state of Colorado?
3. What would it take to inspire, cultivate, and share narratives of ‘faith’ in Colorado which are grounded in inclusion, equity, freedom, and opportunity for all?
Summary of the Plan
Eight areas of focus were identified as areas of intentional investment in order to live into our mission and vision. Below is the stated goal for each of the areas of focus, tactics and timelines are covered in the detailed section of the plan.
1. Education & Empowerment
Share information and tools to support informed, educated, empowered progressive people of multiple faiths to be active participants in civic life.
2. Advocacy & Action
Proactively present, respected, and influential in state and local politics. We increase our influence by educating, involving and empowering as many people as possible in faith based advocacy to disrupt systemic oppression and drive social change.
3. Catalyze Social Change
Partnerships between grassroots movements, advocacy organizations, faith communities, and traditional power holders we are able to embark on bold, creative and transformative projects to catalyze social change.
4. Relationship Building
At the core of who we are is building relationships that are mutual, grounded in respect for differences, rooted in curiosity and care, and moving toward more just and equitable lives and communities.
5. Strong and resilient structures
Structures that ground us in order to provide consistency and stability, and which support creative, nimble, and dynamic community presence and activism. This requires a clear and intentional structure of Boards, Staff, Committees, Advisory groups, Congregation Partners, and Volunteers.
6. Financial diversity, stability and resilience
We must diversify our funding streams, engage major donors, and cultivate our supporter base. We aim to be a ‘million dollar organization’ with a strong, diversified financial foundation.
7. Communication & Storytelling
We must think outside the box, utilize current technology and new media, and create our own media to shift public perceptions and to encourage faith communities to boldly engage in work for the common good.
8. Way of Being
A way of being that is rooted and dynamic, intentionally inclusive, bold, generative, joyful, and relevant to current community movements undergirds our work and is woven into all actions and relationships built.