students working on designs at desk

The Presidential Initiative is intended to foster excellence and preeminence in urban and place-based research and creative work at CU Denver through offering funding, coordinating faculty across campus, communicating outcomes, enabling connections with partners in the community, and serving as a resource for sharing data and best practices. In so doing, it is intended to both increase the impact of CU Denver’s urban and place-based research and creative work, and to attract and fund faculty and students interested in this domain. While focused on urban issues generally, the Initiative emphasizes work relevant to the Front Range, particularly when it has implications nationally or internationally.

The Initiative funds projects that address critical and timely topics related to cities, such as:  Social and Environmental Justice, Equity and Inclusion, Affordable Housing, Plan Making, Public Spaces, Global Cities, Smart Cities, Urban Informatics, Artificial Intelligence for Cities, Infrastructure, Transportation and Mobility, Climate Adaptation, Green Infrastructure, Air and Water Quality, Urban Ecology, Biomimicry, Green Real Estate Development, Public Health, Water and Energy Use, Natural Hazards Mitigation, Environmental Policy, Public Finance, Historic Preservation, Creative Industries, Placemaking, Community Development, Arts and Urban Revitalization, Healthcare Access, Economic Development, Behavioral Economics, Education Policy and Practice, Public Policy and Governance, Public Safety, Public Engagement, Entrepreneurship, Urban Design, Construction Management, and much more.

The 2021 Request for Proposals for seed grants  is now closed. Full descriptions of the projects awarded in the 2020 round of funding are given from the links below.

2021 Award Recipients

Understanding and Leveraging Philanthropic Foundations in Colorado's Urban Areas

Date: 10/1/2020
colorado foundation graph
Principal Researchers: Todd Ely

Unit: School of Public Affairs

Project Abstract:
Government alone cannot address the challenges experienced by urban populations. Recognizing that government funding still overshadows philanthropic resources, foundations play an especially vital role in providing investments and risk capital in urban initiatives nationally and in Colorado. Indeed, it is difficult to look around our urban spaces without seeing the direct influence of our philanthropic foundations evidenced most prominently by the names on our medical, cultural, and educational buildings. In 2016, Colorado foundations held roughly $12 billion in assets and granted $1 billion. Since then, foundation resources and activities in the state have only continued to grow. 
Foundations increasingly consider approaches to “leverage” their assets for greater social impact. The proposed project advances efforts to maximize foundations’ impact in Colorado’s urban centers by asking two related questions. First, what is the landscape of Colorado’s urban-serving philanthropic foundations? Second, how can these foundations leverage their assets beyond traditional grant making for greater social impact in Colorado’s urban areas?

To answer these questions, we use primary and secondary data collection to: 1) create a foundation resource map of the state with a focus on the Front Range population centers, 2) gather evidence of existing innovative practices to maximize social impact by Colorado’s urban foundations, and 3) establish roadmaps/guides to assist foundations in responsibly leveraging foundation balance sheets using emerging practices like program related investments, mission related investments, credit enhancement/guarantees, and debt.

View project updates from the 2021 Fall Research Showcase [PDF]

Todd Ely Bio:
Todd Ely is associate professor in the School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado Denver and Director of the Center for Local Government Research and Training. He is interested in understanding how financial stewardship in public and nonprofit organizations can improve community impact. Todd’s research and teaching focus on the financing of public services, municipal debt, education finance and policy, and public and nonprofit financial management. His research targets both theory and practice. Todd joined the faculty at the University of Colorado Denver after earning his PhD in public administration from New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.


2020 Award Recipients