Salt Lake Group Hope Economy Captures Gold

Still weathering a weak economy and a cutback in funding for social services, Utah’s nonprofits are hoping the glow of the Winter Olympics lasts a little longer than the official flame at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

After years of anticipation, legions of volunteers put their shoulders to the wheel during the 17 days that attracted more than 1.5 million visitors to Salt Lake City and a worldwide television audience of more than a billion viewers.

While the Olympics always take an enormous commitment of financial and volunteer resources, the winter games carried the additional drag of an ongoing war against terrorism and an economic slump that have alternately diverted funds to specific causes while reducing corporate and individual giving.

That left Utah’s nonprofits facing unprecedented competition for the donor’s dollar.

“Clearly, a lot of money was diverted to the Olympics,” said Dian Hartz Warsoff, executive director of the Utah Nonprofits Association. “But I must admit from a fundraising standpoint, I haven’t heard people say they lost funding for programs because of the Olympics.”

Many nonprofits are “somewhat skeptical about how the Olympics are going to affect the economy,” Warsoff said. “There’s going to be an economic impact. There are a lot of people who work for SLOC (Salt Lake Organizing Committee) who are going to be out of work.”

Many of those SLOC employees looking for work will be seeking jobs in a nonprofit sector unable to hire them, Warsoff predicted. But no one knows how much a state cutback in social services funding and a possible retreat from charitable giving might affect the charities.

“I think everyone is playing a wait-and-see attitude from an organizational standpoint to see what happens to the state’s economy,” Warsoff said.

If Salt Lake City follows the pattern of Sydney, Australia, the games will augur an economic rebound. On the other hand, the 1996 games in Atlanta were followed by a severe economic downturn.

While Utah’s ski industry is expected to be the prime beneficiary from the Olympic games, summertime tourists are likely to be drawn to the Great Salt Lake and the Mormon spiritual mecca of Temple Square. Indeed, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS), as the Mormon religion is known officially, provided a spiritual backdrop while restraining its eager young missionaries from proselytizing visitors to the sports venues.

“I think we’ve done the right thing,” 92-year-old LDS President Gordon B. Hinckley told the Salt Lake Tribune. “We have acted as we have been requested to act. We haven’t pushed ourselves into it.”

Hinckley and other church leaders briefly held the Olympic torch on its route to the stadium as recognition for the church’s role in helping finance the games. The church joined the George S. and Dolores Dore Eccles Foundation and Intermountain Health Care to make up the three “platinum donors to the games,” officials said.

Other religious groups were less reticent about proselytizing. The Southern Baptists sponsored Global Outreach 2002, a campaign designed to bring more than 1,000 volunteers from churches across the nation to Salt Lake City.

Four years earlier, the Baptists raised hackles with a video called The Mormon Puzzle followed by a massive door-to-door evangelical effort. At the Olympics, the Southern Baptist evangelism took a more subdued approach, with a hospitality center and leaflets.

Meanwhile, the Salt Lake Area Chapter of the American Red Cross offered some reassurance to visitors worried about a potential terrorist attack. With a grant of $300,000 from Jon M. Huntsman, founder and chairman of Huntsman Corp., the Red Cross provided emergency medical services at the games.

“Our goal from the beginning of the planning meetings in early 1998 was to make sure that the Red Cross met our mission of helping residents prevent, prepare for and respond to any emergencies that might happen during the games,” said Susan Sheehan, American Red Cross chief executive officer, Salt Lake Area Chapter.

Among the foundations that supported Salt Lake City’s Olympics, the dominant player was the George S. and Dolores Dore Eccles Foundation. Foundation Chief Executive Spencer Eccles donated more than $8 million to the games, with $2 million going toward the Olympic caldron, according to news reports.

While organizers cleaned the streets for the games, details of the bribery scandal that threatened to derail the event four years ago disappeared from the front pages. Although the U.S. Justice Department returned no indictments against the SLOC on the allegations of bribes being paid to secure the 2002 games, the investigations led to the resignations of several key executives, including the committee’s former president, Frank Joklik, in early 1999.

Joklik’s replacement was Mitt Romney, son of former Michigan Sen. George Romney, who has been given generally high marks for cleaning up the organization and getting the event back on track. Even though Romney trimmed about $169 million from the committee’s original budget of $1.45 billion, the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO), the Congressional audit bureau, estimated the 2002 Winter Games will cost about $1.9 billion. The organizing committee’s costs included about $3 million in unexpected expenses because of the investigations.

Fundraising for something as monumental as the Olympics starts six years in advance and is 95 percent complete a full year before the event, said Sandra Baldwin, president of the U.S. Olympic Committee. Sources of revenue include broadcast rights, ticket sales, licensed merchandise and cash donations from corporate sponsors.

“It won’t make money, but it will break even,” Baldwin said.


Jeanie Stokes is a reporter for the Denver News Bureau. Dick Williamson, also of the Denver News Bureau, contributed to the report.