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Philanthropic clearinghouse is unique

Combined United Way, Community Foundation functions like no other

January 30, 2012
Messenger News


Messenger staff writer

In Fort Dodge and Webster County, the Fort Dodge Community Foundation and United Way is the focal point for philanthropic efforts to respond creatively to both short-term human resource needs and longer-term efforts to plan for the region's future.

Article Photos

Scott McQueen, left, is the president of the Fort Dodge Community Foundation and United Way board of directors. Also shown is Susan Ahlers Leman, community campaign chair, and Randy Kuhlman, the organization’s chief executive officer.

According to Randy Kuhlman, the organization's chief executive officer, it is a philanthropic clearing- house that connects people who care with causes that matter. The goal is to improve the local quality of life today and in the future.

Addressing the needs of those in a community who are challenged in the short run by assorted personal, health, social or economic difficulties is an ongoing concern just about everywhere. Similarly, strengthening the various capabilities that lead to a brighter tomorrow for a town and region is a priority when the focus is more long-term.

What is unique in Webster County, according to Kuhlman, is that an entity has been created that combines efforts that in most communities are handled though separate organizations.

Fact Box

'Catch the Spirit'

Funds raised in our "Catch the Spirit" campaign will be used to make a real impact in our community and county. Campaign funds will be used to support three focus areas:

Helping youths succeed - Our youths are our future and more than ever, they need our support. These programs and services are focused on helping prepare our youths to reach their full potential as students and to achieve their career and family goals as future citizens and as future business and community leaders.

Meeting life's basic needs - food, shelter, clothing - These programs and services help address temporary and urgent needs of our fellow citizens and youth. Funds help support families and individuals in crisis and in need of assistance for some of life's basic necessities; food, shelter, clothing and health care.

Community enhancements - Funds will be used to support community improvement projects that enhance our quality of life. These inspiring places are what gives our community character. They give our community a unique quality and identifies it as a special place. Inspiring places may include parks, walking and biking trails, recreational facilities, entertainment venues, historical places and community beautification projects.

Source: Fort Dodge Community Foundation and United Way

United Way organizations and separate community foundations exist in towns across America. Meshing the two entities is a unique approach that Kuhlman said is being studied elsewhere, but to his knowledge so far has only moved from the drawing board to reality in Fort Dodge.

This local coordinating point for charitable activity took on a new look in July 2007. United Way of Greater Fort Dodge and the Community Foundation of Fort Dodge and North Central Iowa merged to form a new organization named United Way and Community Foundation of Northwest Iowa. That entity was subsequently renamed the Fort Dodge Community Foundation and United Way.

Creating a one-stop shop for the full range of philanthropy was the goal in establishing this synergistic arrangement, Kuhlman said. Each year, the Fort Dodge Community Foundation and United Way develops a plan that matches the money raised with the needs of the programs with which it partners.

The Fort Dodge Community Foundation and United Way marries the overlapping concerns of a United Way program with the somewhat different agenda of a community foundation, Kuhlman said.

"United Way is always focused on human services," he explained. "Supporting and reaching out to meet the needs of people, who are struggling - youths, adults, families. ... Supporting programs and organizations that are addressing those human service needs. A community foundation has a broader vision. Part of that vision is on human services, but the broader vision is any project - it could be environmental, it could be recreational, it could be economic development. The mature community foundations around the country when you see the things that they are funding and supporting, it ranges from economic development to parks and recreation, arts and culture, human services and everything in between."

For individuals, businesses and other entities seeking to support worthy causes, Kuhlman said the merged entity can be a huge advantage.

"It gives donors much, much greater flexibility and many, many more options for deciding what is it that you want to support. That flexibility - when you are talking about trying to raise philanthropic dollars for your community - is very, very important," he said.

Community Campaign and more

Each year, the Fort Dodge Community Foundation and United Way undertakes a major fundraising drive that begins in the fall and runs for several months. This initiative parallels the United Way drives in cities and towns across the nation and is essentially a continuation of the charitable fundraising that organization has undertaken for decades.

The Community Campaign currently under way locally is chaired by Susan Ahlers Leman, a vice president and wealth adviser at First American Bank. Leman is also the immediate past president of the board of directors of the Fort Dodge Community Foundation and United Way.

While there are good reasons to support the Community Campaign every year, Leman explained in a column in the November 2011 issue of Fort Dodge Business Review why she is enthusiastic about chairing this year's effort and regards this fundraising drive to be particularly vital.

"With the challenging economy, many families and youth in our community are struggling and need a friendly and caring hand to help sustain them," she wrote.

In 2010-2011 the Community Campaign raised $351,000. Kuhlman said those funds were an important source of funding throughout 2011 for entities addressing human services needs. Despite the sluggish economy, he said the fundraising goal set for the current Community Campaign is $375,000 because the tough times make the importance of charitable contributions increasingly great.

"The economy in the last three or four years has really taken a toll on families," he said. "Especially some of our lower-income families."

The funds generated through the Community Campaign are just part of the story. The Fort Dodge Community Foundation and United Way also manages a growing number of endowment funds set up by donors for long-run support of worthwhile causes. Kuhlman said that as 2012 began "we're managing about 43 funds."

Endowed funds of various types make it possible for the Fort Dodge Community Foundation and United Way to support a wide array of projects that Kuhlman said help build the community. He said donors who seek to have a significant long-term positive effect on the community find the endowment options extremely attractive.

"Our mission is to serve as a catalyst for philanthropy for the community," Kuhlman said. "So that people can give back to the community in a very meaningful way. ... We like to work with people who are establishing a legacy. It's a great way to do that."

The combined impact on the community in 2011 of the funds raised by the Community Campaign and the monies paid out from the growing assortment of charitable funds reached $1,017, 750, Kuhlman said.

Goals for 2012

Looking to the year ahead, the leaders of the Fort Community Foundation and United Way have announced the emphasis will be on young people and families with children.

"Our emphasis the past couple of years has been on helping disadvantaged youths and disadvantaged families with children," Kuhlman said. "Our long-term goal is that we want to see every youth thrive and reach their full potential - academically, socially and developmentally. Our main focus is youths. Not the only focus, but it's the main focus."

Getting the maximum community benefit from every philanthropic dollar is also a priority.

"We're always looking for a way to improve the impact that we can make on the community through the charitable dollars that are raised," Kuhlman said.

Related to that goal is a just-launched effort to enhance communication between the organizations that partner with the Fort Dodge Community Foundation and United Way.

"We're trying to create a collaborative network of organizations that are providing services to youths and families in the community," Kuhlman explained. "The goal is to develop a process that will enhance the ability for all these organizations to reach families that might need their services. ... We're going to put a process in place that is going to enhance communication."

This effort recognizes that many programs have a very specific focus that does not routinely bring the personnel who operate them into dialogue with those who administer other programs with a different thrust.

"They're not necessarily related," Kuhlman said. "For example, we might have a situation where an organization is dealing with families in a crisis of some kind. And yet there might be a program over here for one of their children. And this family doesn't have a clue that it exists. So, we're just trying to get a more collaborative and cohesive approach."

The goal he said is to bridge the communication gap and get the wide array of charitable endeavors connected where appropriate.

Contact Terrence Dwyer at (515) 573-2141 or



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