|Community Foundation Beginnings|
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Over a Pepsi in the bar at the old Casper Holiday Inn, Larry Nash, US West Foundation administrator, first suggested that we start a statewide community foundation.
We had been participating in a nuts-and-bolts technical assistance conference for Wyoming nonprofits. Long-term financial viability had emerged as the number one challenge. While some of us knew about endowments, though at the time (1987) it hadn’t yet entered the Wyoming vocabulary, we had never heard of community foundations. Larry, however, who was an excellent teacher, introduced us to the Denver Foundation and the national Council on Foundations. Lollie Plank, a director of the technical assistance organization and a newcomer to Wyoming from Minnesota, had arrived thoroughly versed in community foundations and, in particular, the inestimable value of flexible or unrestricted endowment funds.
On May 1, 1989, after two years of homework and quiet persuasion, we dissolved the Wyoming Volunteer Assistance Corporation in favor of the Wyoming Centennial Community Foundation—Centennial because the initial directors consisted of three members of the state Centennial Commission—Peg Coe (Cody), Dick Hartman (Cheyenne), and Gayle Weaver (Alladin)—and three members of the technical assistance group—John B. Gramlich, MD (Cheyenne), former Governor Ed Herschler, and Lollie. As its birthday present to the people of Wyoming, the US West Foundation granted $142,770 to cover start-up costs for two years. Newell B. Sargent (Worland) and Lollie established the first two endowment funds, totaling $78,100.
Harnessing local energy for the common good is much more than a slogan. Through the hard work of Bill McDowell (Casper) and Sals Adams (Jackson), we managed to convince prospective donors interested in establishing their own foundations for Natrona and Teton counties that, at least to start with and to meet IRS requirements, it was in their interest to participate in the statewide community foundation; thus, the creation of the unincorporated components known as affiliates. (Primarily over the policy issue of donor-directed versus donor-advised funds, the Jackson affiliate became autonomous in 1995.)
Convinced that the Wyoming Community Foundation was uniquely positioned to bring Wyoming together, for which we needed to show that the Community Foundation itself was permanent, Charles Kepler (Cody) as president, Paul Stock Foundation, challenged his fellow Community Foundation board members to match a $500,000 challenge, thus establishing a $1 million operating fund endowment. Kep gave us 90 days; we surprised everyone, especially ourselves, by meeting the challenge within 30 days. By June 30, 1995, total assets had reached $5 million.
Heeding Bill McDowell`s continual reminders that we would be judged by grants distributed rather than by asset size, we inaugurated grantmaking during our first year of operations. An early grant, $2000, went to purchase long-lasting conifers on the west side of Dubois; former sawmill owner-operator, Darwin Wilson volunteered his services to plant and, since then, to maintain the trees.
Planting trees that survive our climate and building endowments that last forever are two sides of the same coin: creating and sustaining permanent communities.