Celebrating Community Foundations
Across our beloved Montana, scores of dedicated folks are working to improve the quality of life for everyone in their communities now and far into the future. We are your friends and neighbors who are the strength behind the 75 local community foundations in the Treasure State.
That says something about Montanans – our optimistic view of the future, desire to make our state a better place for our children and future generations and our willingness to challenge adverse situations and turn them into prospects for growth and opportunity in our hometowns.
Nov. 12-18 is National Community Foundation Week, created in 1989 by President George H. W. Bush to recognize the important century-old work of community foundations and their collaborative and innovative approach to working with the public, private and nonprofit sectors.
As an interesting note, in part because of its size and population distribution, Montana has the highest percentage of community foundation – “CF” for short – for its population – totaling about 10 percent of those nationwide.
So, what is a community foundation?
Simply put, it is a catalyst for local philanthropy and positive change. Community foundations help Montana communities of all sizes discover what they can be by convening citizens around common goals, supporting collaboration among local nonprofits and promoting community partnerships and leadership.
“Connecting caring people and resources with community needs and opportunities” is the mission of the Park County Community Foundation and reflective of many other Montana CFs.
Central Montana Foundation of Lewistown is the oldest in the state, organized in 1984 and serving all or parts of five counties; the newest is just forming in Ryegate. The largest is the Montana Community Foundation based in Helena, which has a mission “to cultivate a culture of giving so Montana communities can flourish” and works closely as an “umbrella” to amplify the work of the smallest CFs in the state.
What are local community foundations doing?
• The Red Lodge Area CF is working with others in their community to purchase, restore and repurpose a ”retired” school in their community to be a community arts center.
• Glendive CF is working with its chamber to revitalize its downtown.
• The Bozeman Area CF and Sweet Grass CF in Big Timber conduct community-wide events with widespread public involvement to directly benefit a variety of nonprofit agencies through, respectively, their annual “Give Big” event and “Raw Deal Run.”
• Seeley Lake CF is becoming the hub of their community. From bringing public art that amplified outdoor activities for the community’s visitors to facilitating an economic development study, this community foundation is the heart of Seeley Lake.
• Missoula CF believes that creating stronger nonprofits has benefits that ripple throughout the local economy. That’s why they invest in strengthening the infrastructure of nonprofits to help organizations grow and succeed through their Missoula Project for Nonprofit Excellence program.
And how is all this work accomplished? Largely by volunteer board members who contribute their energies, creativity, knowledge of their home-town communities and their own charitable gifting to their foundations.
These local groups:
• Are the hubs that enable people with philanthropic interests to easily and effectively support the issues they care about – immediately or through their estates.
• Serve as catalysts and supporters of good works by bringing people together from across different sectors of the community to address local challenges.
• Support activities that have the greatest benefit to the local community while serving the interests of donors.
• Promote a sense of community pride and cohesiveness that overrides individual interests.
This week in Montana and across the country we celebrate community foundations working together to create positive change in our communities for the benefit of children, families, senior citizens, the arts, economic development, public health and safety and the environment.
At a time when government capacity to solve our most pressing problems is limited, community foundations offer real solutions. Community foundations are on the front lines of change, working to leverage relationships and resources to achieve real results.
Find your local community foundation at http://www.mtcf.org and then make contact to ask how you can be involved or make a gift – everyone can be a philanthropist.
Peter D. Fox is executive director of the Park County Community Foundation and chair of the Local Community Foundation Advisory Committee to the statewide Montana Community Foundation.