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Posted: March 01, 2012

CEBA Winner: Denver Rescue Mission

CEBA Samaritan Institute Award

Nora Caley

The Denver Rescue Mission, which calls itself the oldest full-service Christian charity in the Rocky Mountain region, provides food, shelter and medical care. The nonprofit, known for its "Jesus Saves" sign outside the Lawrence Street shelter, also helps return people to society as productive, self-sufficient citizens.

So what does that have to do with ethics? Everything, says Brad Meuli, who has served as president and CEO of the Denver Rescue Mission since 2001. "When you think about honesty and being truthful, all the Denver Rescue Mission has is its name, and we take that very seriously," he says. "If we say we’re going to do something, we do it."

That’s especially important for donors, he says. "If a donor knows we served more than 600,000 meals last year and provided more than 240,000 nights of shelter, they know it because we said we did. They trust us, and it’s all about trust in the nonprofit community."

Nonprofits and for-profits alike have suffered from high-profile ethical lapses, and Meuli doesn’t want that to happen to Denver Rescue Mission, recipient of this year’s Colorado Ethics in Business Alliance Samaritan Institute Award. "This is our 120th year," he says. "If you just have one big blow and you’re not ethical, that would affect all the great history and the name you have. It is easier for donors to come alongside you if you look people in the eye."

It’s not just about good deeds, he says. Sometimes ethics means declining an offer of money. Denver Rescue Mission offers a program called New Life, which combines counseling, Bible therapy, academics and work study. One of the sites for the program is Harvest Farm, a 209-acre farm near Wellington. A few years ago Denver Rescue Mission won a government grant as part of a capital campaign to construct a building at the farm.

"It became evident we weren’t going to be able to do that, so we went back to the government and said, ‘Listen, we are not going to be able to build this building,’ and we gave them the grant back," Meuli says. "They hadn’t given us money. We had to draw on the grant, so we didn’t."

Denver Rescue Mission also implemented some accounting processes that comply with the standards of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, a complex federal law meant to protect investors of corporations. "There is a lot you don’t have to do as a nonprofit but relative to accounting there are things we thought were the right things to do," Meuli says.

Meuli, who worked in banking for 17 years before taking a position at Denver Rescue Mission, explains that the standards have to do mainly with financial reporting. Denver Rescue Mission has a finance committee that meets on a monthly basis. The nonprofit also hired an accountant who had instituted Sarbanes-Oxley standards at his previous, for-profit employer.

"Not only did we do the right thing but we hired an expert," Meuli says. "It seems like such a simple thing. We took a look at that and said, ‘This makes sense for us.’"

Suzann Bacon, vice president of operations of the Denver/Boulder Better Business Bureau, nominated Denver Rescue Mission for the CEBA award. "My nephew participated in their New Life program," she says. "It was a two-year program and he was in it for one, and it really helped him."

The Denver/Boulder BBB also awarded the nonprofit with a Torch Award for Marketplace Trust in 2010. – Nora Caley

Nora Caley is a freelance writer specializing in business and food topics. She can be reached at noracaley@comcast.net.

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