Big Dreams, Big Progress
by Leslie Stephen on January 5, 2015
In Nebraska, a group of visionary volunteers got together to do something about supporting community development in the state’s small towns. Their goal was to raise $25 million in ten years.
That was in 1993. Today, the Nebraska Community Foundation and its affiliated funds have reinvested $222.7 million in Nebraska’s people and places.
NCF is not a charity, and it’s not your typical foundation. NCF’s “theory of change” moves people and communities away from a culture of dependency toward self-reliance based on local assets, including a new form of locally controlled opportunity capital called “unrestricted community endowments.” Community philanthropy and endowment building in and of themselves are not the Foundation’s primary goals. Instead, they are considered just a couple of tools in the Foundation’s collection of methods for local capacity building and economic development.
The Nebraska Community Foundation provides communities with assistance and technical expertise to maximize the effectiveness of community philanthropy and educates donors and community leaders on the impact of grant making on community economic development goals. It currently works with community, organizational and donor-advised affiliated funds serving 255 communities located in 77 Nebraska counties. As of September 30, 2014 NCF had $96.9 million in total assets with $64.8 million in permanent endowments under management.
One example of an NCF-sponsored or –assisted investment is the annual entrepreneurship camp for kids in Valley County. Each summer kids in the fifth grade and above learn about business planning, product development, marketing and finance; meet with local businesses and bankers; and sell their products and services in the town square of the county seat, Ord. To grow their businesses, the young people also sell their products at the Ord Farmer’s Market, Valley County Fair Entrepreneurship Day, Nebraska State Fair and the Youth Entrepreneurship Showcase held in January. Attendance in free, thanks to local endowments, partnerships and donations.
The history and impact of the camp was also recently documented in It Takes a Community: Valley County, a film produced by Nebraska Loves Public Schools.
Another recent NCF-assisted development is a community center in Byron, funded in part with eighteen gifts of grain from area farmers, worth more than $100,000.
The Byron Community Foundation Fund was established in July 2011. During its first year the Fund received eighteen gifts of grain worth more than $100,000. With additional cash gifts and pledges, the Fund raised over $450,000 in less than a year.
Chair Jeremy Heitmann has some ideas about why the gifts of grain came pouring in. “You can say we had the wind at our backs with the farm economy. People are capable of giving now, much more than in the past. And it’s a win-win situation when you can get a full tax deduction and still write off all of your expenses. A lot of people were surprised they could do this,” Heitmann said.
He points to another reason for the recent success. “For many years we’ve needed a new community center. It’s important to our town. The question was how we were going to do it,” said Heitmann. “We found out that starting up our own foundation would take more than eighteen months.”
People knew they needed to act quickly. So they turned to NCF for help. “There is no way we could have accomplished what we have without the support and expertise of the Nebraska Community Foundation,” Heitmann said.
Byron is a town of 83 people, yet young adults are moving back there for, as the locals put it, “a better life.” The brand new million-dollar community center will be part of that life. But the community has an even bigger dream: to create a $7.5 million unrestricted endowment to fuel progress forever.
Come Back, Give Back
The Nebraska Community Foundation promotes an admirable vision for the state of Nebraska and inspires a come-back—give-back ethic among all its citizens:
The Nebraska Community Foundation envisions a state where communities provide opportunities for all people to reach their highest potential within a safe, nurturing and stimulating environment. People embrace our Nebraska values of hard work, accountability and responsibility. Nebraska communities are places where people want to live, raise families, do business, work and enjoy the good life.
After more than twenty years, the Foundation sees its job as continuing to partner with community leaders to inspire charitable giving, prudently manage financial resources and make strategic investments for the prosperity of Nebraska’s people and communities. So far, so good.
- Turn Up Your Dream Switch (NCF video)
- Byron: Small Town, Big Dreams (NCF video)
- Valley County: A Great Place to Grow (NCF video)
- No One Is Doing What You Are Doing (McKnight video)