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Law graduate to continue nonprofit advocacy

Alan Frosh, who graduates from DU's Sturm College of Law on May 21, started the Gordian Fund, a philanthropy group for young professionals. Photo: Wayne Armstrong

Alan Frosh (BA political science ’05) can’t remember a time when words like “philanthropy,” “service” and “community engagement” weren’t in his vocabulary.

Frosh — who will graduate on May 21 with a JD from DU’s Sturm College of Law — is the chairman and founder of the Gordian Fund, a nonprofit for young professionals who want to engage in philanthropy.

Frosh traces his interest in philanthropy back to his Jewish faith’s emphasis on social justice.

As a high school student, Frosh worked at the Young Americans Center for Financial Education — an affiliate of the Daniels Fund. At DU, he stayed involved with the organization and helped with a capital campaign. He then founded the Daniels Legacy Circle — a youth advisory board for young alumni of the organization’s financial education programs to stay involved as ambassadors for the programs.

After graduating, Frosh joined the El Pomar Foundation as a senior program associate/fellow, where he worked on professional development and built community partnerships in Colorado mountain communities.

“I worked with places that provided a lot of the workforce for the ritzy mountain towns like Vail and Aspen,” Frosh says. “There were a lot of issues up there dealing with economic equality — how to make sure people that work there can actually afford to live there, too.”

While at El Pomar, Frosh started thinking about how he could bring young professionals together to share in his passion for helping the community.

“As my high school and college classmates began to populate the workforce, I was amazed at how few recognized the need for supporting the nonprofit sector,” Frosh says.

He came up with the Gordian Fund, a donor-advised fund comprised of young professionals looking for opportunities to give back to their communities.

“I thought it could be a much more broad idea across the nonprofit sector to educate young professionals, giving them the education and encouragement to get more involved,” Frosh says.

After researching and discussing the idea for two years, Frosh reached out to his network of peers to recruit founding members and received nonprofit status in 2007.

Gordian Fund members commit to a five-year giving cycle with an amount they can afford to give — for most, it’s about $100 per year. Twice a year, fund members nominate nonprofits and convene to vote on one organization to receive a grant from them. The annual grants amount to 50 percent of the fund’s net assets.

As of May 2011, the fund has 52 active members — including 15 DU alumni and six current DU graduate students. The fund is open to all age groups, though most members are 21–29 years old. Membership is split evenly between females and males and includes investment bankers, lawyers, nonprofit professionals, engineers, entrepreneurs and students.

As membership grows, the grant amounts grow as well. Frosh says the fund aims for quality members over quantity.

“Our goal is to grow reasonably and strategically,” he says. “A lot of organizations, especially using social media, expand way too quickly and move far away from their core goals and mission. Our goal is to find the right members, who are committed to the five-year cycle and to learning and growing.”

The fund has a board of directors and several committees, and aside from the two annual meetings, Gordian Fund members get together throughout the year for organized volunteer opportunities and networking events.

Thus far, the organization has given three $1,000 grants and one $1,500 grant to the following Denver-area nonprofits: Colorado Youth at Risk, Growing Home, Freedom Service Dogs and Denver Urban Gardens. Members will vote on the next grant recipient of $1,500 at the Gordian Fund’s September meeting.

Over the next five years, Frosh estimates the fund will make at least two $5,000 grants per year. Frosh does not receive any compensation for his role at the Gordian Fund, as all of the funds go directly to grants.

Frosh entered law school in 2008 with a goal of becoming a general counsel for a nonprofit.

While at DU, he served as a senator and vice president of fundraising for DU’s Student Bar Association and as the DU law liaison for the Colorado Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division.

His goal is to practice public interest law, but he’s quick to add that the current definition should be expanded to include services that help nonprofits.

“To me, the greater philanthropic community also needs attorneys and people who are trained to be analytical and do critical things in a positive way to improve an organization’s capacity,” he says. “That’s what my goal is through my legal practice — to expand the way that people look at a nonprofit lawyer. Right now it’s just kind of as a legal aid — they work for people who can’t pay. My goal is much more strategic; it’s broader.”

He has been working toward this goal by helping DU with research and planning for the Community Economic Development Clinic, a new clinic that will allow students to provide transactional legal services to nonprofits. It’s slated to open this fall.

Frosh also has melded his interests in law and the nonprofit world as a consultant. He just finished a six-month contract helping the state of Colorado with planning and development for a new grant-making initiative — the Tony Grampsas Youth Services Program. The program will distribute grants to nonprofits that prevent child abuse and student dropouts.

“It was a nice way to build a hybrid example of what I could do as a lawyer and a nonprofit-trained consultant,” Frosh says.

Michael Sousa, a DU assistant professor of law, has had Frosh in four of his classes.

“Alan has repeatedly impressed me as hardworking, intelligent and driven toward pursuing his career goals,” Sousa says. “I have no doubt that Alan will be a successful attorney and will make the Sturm College of Law proud.”

After graduating, Frosh plans to put his degree to use and to help nonprofits in the process.

“I definitely have non-litigation ideals,” Frosh says. “I don’t want to go to court or be a defense attorney or a prosecutor. It’s about using those skills transactionally. Nonprofit work requires the ability to build a case — be it for fundraising or grantmaking — and then sell it. I want to be an attorney but apply that practice to the nonprofit world.”

Frosh also will continue his work with the Gordian Fund.

“Charitable work makes me feel great, and I hope that my life’s work will make that feeling contagious.”

The DU Sturm College of Law annual spring Commencement begins at 10 a.m. May 21 at the Ritchie Center. Doors open at 9 a.m. No tickets are required. For more information or to watch a broadcast of the ceremony, visit DU’s Commencement website.

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