Addressing the needs of those in a community who are challenged in the short run by assorted personal, health, social or economic difficulties is a concern in many communities. 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.
In Fort Dodge and Webster County, charitable efforts that in most communities are handled by multiple entities have been combined to a substantial degree in one organization - the Fort Dodge Community Foundation and United Way, 822 Central Ave., Suite 405.
This nonprofit clearinghouse for philanthropy was created in July 2007 as a synthesis of the functions of United Way of Greater Fort Dodge and the Community Foundation of Fort Dodge and North Central Iowa. (It was initially named United Way and Community Foundation of Northwest Iowa, but subsequently renamed the Fort Dodge Community Foundation and United Way.)
-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Fort Dodge Community Foundation and United Way CEO Randy Kuhlman, left, along with Valero Renewables Plant Manager Troy Shaner watch as Malik Pettigrew, 11, works on one of the computers at Athletes For Education and Success.
"Our mission overall is to serve as a catalyst for charitable support that will improve the quality of life in our community and county," said Randy Kuhlman, the organization's chief executive officer. "The United Way side is mostly focused on human services and nonprofits and charitable causes that impact people. On the community foundation side, it can be human services or it can be community projects like trails and parks. The foundation offers donors more flexibility. If donors have a passion for something that is a charitable cause, we can typically work with that donor to make that happen."
After a bit more than half a decade, merging a United Way affiliate with a community foundation has proved highly successful in addressing local needs, according to Kuhlman.
"In the past 12 months, I think we've donated back to the community both through the United Way and the community foundation funds close to $750,000," he said.
Combining the missions of a community foundation and a United Way organization is a model that remains unusual both in Iowa and nationally.
"I still think we are the only United Way organization that has officially merged with a community foundation," Kuhlman said, noting that it is a concept that is attracting widespread interest. He said he gets frequent inquiries from other communities throughout the nation where similar partnering is being discussed.
Kuhlman said Fort Dodge was a trailblazer in this regard because the members of the boards of both predecessor organizations locally were uninhibited by the turf issues that might have complicated the effort to bring about an innovative collaboration. He said the two entities had many shared goals and a substantial overlap in supporters.
"The board members at the time on both boards were very visionary and open-minded about the idea," he said.
Essentially, what has been created is one-stop shop for a broad range of worthy endeavors. Kuhlman said this philanthropic clearinghouse connects people who care with causes that matter. Many individuals and business leaders share the goal of improving the local quality of life today and for the future.
He said the Fort Dodge Community Foundation and United Way gives them great flexibility in deploying the money and other resources they wish to commit in ways that maximize the positive impact.
Community Campaign and more
Each year, the Fort Dodge Community Foundation and United Way undertakes a major fundraising drive called the Community Campaign 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 the continuation of a charitable fundraising approach that has been undertaken for decades.
The two most recent campaigns have each had fundraising goals of $350,000.
Kuhlman said the effort that concluded about one year ago fell just a bit short of that mark, but he expects the current undertaking - now in its final stages - to reach its target.
Chaired by Fort Dodge Police Chief Tim Carmody, the most recent Community Campaign has the theme "We're Up on Fort Dodge."
Writing about the campaign in the September 2012 issue of Fort Dodge Business Review, Carmody stressed that the funds being raised are vitally important to the organization's ability to support its YouthNet initiative.
That effort includes an array of projects designed to help young folks overcome obstacles that could inhibit their ability to become successful adults.
"On the United Way side, our focus is on helping youths reach their full potential academically, socially and developmentally," Kuhlman explained.
"A lot of the programs and projects that we support are focused on helping underprivileged youths that just need a helping hand. ... In our YouthNet we fund various types of programs that are focused in those areas."
Putting an emphasis on projects that help young people overcome disadvantaged situations will remain a key aspect of the organization's agenda in 2013 and beyond.
"We're finding that our supporters, their No. 1 priority is helping youths," Kuhlman explained. "The economy in the past four years took a toll on a lot of middle- and lower-income families in our community and county. The kids in those families need some additional support."
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 to provide long-run support for worthwhile causes.
"Under our jurisdiction now, we have 28 non-endowed funds," Kuhlman said. "We have 21 endowed funds. We have three of what we call managed funds."
The managed funds are contractual arrangements by which the Fort Dodge Community Foundation and United way contracts with another philanthropic organization to administer that organization's endowment.
"We can provide foundations that don't have their own staff with a valuable service in terms of managing gifts, accounting, handling all their taxes and even working with the donors," Kuhlman said.
"We can serve as their ad hoc staff."
The organizations whose funds currently are being managed through this type of arrangement are the Fort Dodge Public Library Foundation, the Blanden Charitable Foundation and Community REC Center Foundation.
Endowed funds of various types are a growing part of the agenda at The Fort Dodge Community Foundation and United Way.
They make it possible 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 assets have grown in the past four years," Kuhlman said. "We've gone from managing assets in the area of $2 million to now we're over $7 million."
About the organization
The Fort Dodge Community Foundation and United Way has a four-person staff headed by Kuhlman.
The organization is governed by a 16-member board of directors.
Scott McQueen, a financial representative affiliated with Northwestern Mutual, began a two-year term as board president in January 2012.