Simplified: While many nonprofits struggled in recent years, Lost & Found – a South Dakota-based nonprofit focused on suicide prevention, especially among college students – more than quadrupled its revenue (and reached millions of people) during the pandemic.

Why it matters

  • Suicide prevention is as important as it's ever been in South Dakota. The state Department of Health said 2020 brought the second-highest number of suicides on record.
  • The department data also shows the group with the highest suicide rate is people age 20-29, generally the age bracket most college students fall into.
  • Lost & Found's growth is due in part to more financial contributions, and it's also expanded its services to include research. Its Campus Resiliency Index aims to help universities across the state (and beyond) get a clearer picture of student mental health.
"When we talk about resiliency, we're talking about skills students have ... to be able to deal with difficulties," Director of Programs Susan Kroger said. "I think of that as a strengths-based approach. That's how we frame all of our work."

Tell me more about Lost & Found

A group of University of South Dakota students started the nonprofit about 11 years ago with the idea of encouraging random acts of kindness. It later grew to a broader goal of supporting mental health and preventing suicide.

Today, the mission is building resilience – for yourself, for others and for the community at large.

  • The organization works primarily with college campuses, which were generally short-staffed with mental health professionals even before the pandemic, Lost & Found Executive Director Erik Muckey said.
"We do not have a way to manage that caseload," he said, adding that the focus, then, needs to be on prevention and providing students with skills they need to strengthen their resiliency.

What's behind the growth?

A few things.

One big one is increased financial support, including a $300,000 commitment from T. Denny Sanford in 2020.

The nonprofit has also grown through offering a broader range of services.

This year, it formalized a research arm of the organization, which has helped offer more quantitative and qualitative insight into how people are feeling and what tools they have to manage life's challenges.

  • Lost & Found also offers research services to other organizations. For example, Kroger shared that they recently worked on a study for United Way's Vermillion chapter to help get a better sense of what the mental health needs are in that community.

What happens next?

The nonprofit's research efforts will continue to expand, Kroger said, and it's also forming partnerships with the state's technical schools.

Another thing to watch is the nonprofit's expanding peer-to-peer program, Muckey said, as well a plan to take the Campus Resiliency Index not only statewide but to expand to other states as well.

"There's an urgency around this work," Kroger said. "Suicide is still the second-leading cause of death in young people."