FD Community Foundation/United Way: Focus on philanthropy

Dedicated to helping people who need a hand up

Amy Bruno, left, with the Community Foundation & United Way, joins Heather and Christian Sayer, and Fort Dodge Ford owner Matt Johnson for the Wheels for Work program. The program accepts donated vehicles and gives them to young families that are in need of a car.

The Fort Dodge Community Foundation and United Way is dedicated to helping people who need a hand up and working collaboratively with an array of other organizations to better the community. It is a multifaceted clearinghouse for a wide assortment of projects and causes. Perhaps its most important function is linking those with philanthropy in mind with worthy recipients.

“The ultimate goal is that the Fort Dodge community will prosper and the quality of life here will be enhanced for people of all ages and all population sectors,” said Randy Kuhlman, who has been the organization’s chief executive officer since 2009.

In most communities charitable efforts are handled by multiple entities. In Fort Dodge and Webster County, a more consolidated approach has been in place for nine years.

The Fort Dodge Community Foundation and United Way, 24 N. Ninth St., Suite B, was created in July 2007. It merged 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.)

The two components of the enterprise perform complementary but somewhat different functions. There is, however, an overarching mission that unites the diverse projects supported – encouraging people to give back to their community. Linking potential donors with the multiple ways giving can be accomplished effectively is at the heart of what the organization does.

Women attend a MomTalk with Janel Lincoln at Lutheran Family Services. MomTalk provides parent education and support for mothers raising children ages infant to 12 years. The program takes on issues including healthy lifestyle, self-sufficiency and improving family interactions.

United Way

The United Way side of the organization raises funds to support a growing number of programs and services.

“For United Way, money is contributed to an annual community campaign and is granted back out throughout the next year,” Kuhlman said. “A majority of our charitable donations are to help kids that come from low-income families. Sometimes, to help the kid, you’ve got to help the family. It’s a combination of both. We also have been putting more emphasis this past year on helping our frail elderly senior citizens.”

Money to support these activities is raised annually through a fundraising undertaking called the Community Campaign. Kuhlman said the goal for 2017-2018 is to raise $475,000.

Funds generated by each year’s campaign are allocated to partner organizations that apply for grant support.

Mentoring is another way in which the Community Foundation & United Way facilitates success in Fort Dodge and the area.

“We have two types of United Way grants,” Kuhlman said. “We have what is called allocation grants. We have 20 nonprofit agencies that receive those grants. We ask them when they apply to be specific about a service or program that they are offering that fits into the United Way mission. Then we have what we call discretionary United Way grants. Those go to organizations that have a need that has popped up that was unexpected and they need support. It might be for an opportunity that’s come up or an emergency situation.”

Holding money in reserve to respond to unanticipated needs helps increase the ability of United Way to target its funds more effectively, Kuhlman said.

“We leave 50 percent of the funds available for discretionary grants because we want to be here as a resource for people as well as organizations that find themselves in a situation they didn’t expect,” he said. “In doing so, we are having a real impact.”

United Way of Greater Fort Dodge also has a limited number of initiatives it administers with its own team.

Meals on Wheels is a program United Way has been managing directly since March 2017. It uses volunteers to deliver meals to people who are homebound and need help getting nutritious, hot meals.

Bickford Assisted Living employees deliver Meals on Wheels. The program is funded through Fort Dodge Community Foundation/United way, and relies on volunteers from businesses and clubs in town to make deliveries.

“Barb Michaels is the director of Meals on Wheels,” Kuhlman said. “It’s going well and continues to grow each week.”

Bridging the Gap is a furniture dissemination project that United Way also administers directly.

“We accept donated furniture — beds, kitchen tables, couches, chairs, dishes and silverware, what have you, from people who are no longer using those items but they are still in pretty good shape,” Kuhlman said. “We work with very low-income families that need furniture. We have a qualifying set of criteria that we follow. We redistribute those items to eligible families that need those sorts of things. It’s all kinds of furniture. Beds still remain the highest need.”

Wheels for Work is also managed by United Way personnel. That project gets donated used vehicles to people who lack the transportation they need to get to work or address other family needs.

“We average giving out eight to 12 vehicles a year,” Kuhlman said. “Fort Dodge Ford makes sure they are safe and in good running condition. We have a list of eligible people. Usually, they go to single-parent families with children who have no transportation.”

-Messenger file photo by Hans Madsen
Randy Kuhlman, chief executive officer and president of the Fort Dodge Community Foundation and United Way, poses in the groups downtown Fort Dodge offices.

Community Foundation

Helping people who are confronted with rather urgent and immediate needs is the focus for United Way of Greater Fort Dodge. The Community Foundation side of the organization addresses a more comprehensive range of situations and opportunities.

“The Community Foundation’s focus is much broader,” Kuhlman said. “A big part of it also is human services. It also can provide grants and support for a wide range of community projects — parks, trails — any kind of project that is considered charitable.”

The Community Foundation aspect of the enterprise involves developing charitable funds that support diverse community-betterment projects including those to enhance the quality of life for everyone who calls Fort Dodge home, Kuhlman said.

The organization oversees a growing number of funds set up by various donors to provide support for a diverse assortment of worthwhile causes.

“We right now have about 130 funds under management,” Kuhlman said. “We just broke the $14 million mark of assets under management.”

That’s is up from $13 million a year ago and from $1.3 million in 2009.

The game plan is to provide a flexible array of vehicles for philanthropic giving.

“We are encouraging folks to look at the opportunity of establishing a fund with us as a way to give back to their community,” Kuhlman said. “We want to continue to grow our endowment funds and grow the number of funds we have so we can have a greater impact in the community.”

Some of the projects backed through the Community Foundation component are intended to make Fort Dodge a better place to live for the town as a whole. In doing so, they contribute to economic development efforts because they make this town a more attractive place for corporate investment, Kuhlman said.

He said one of his key goals is to increase public awareness about the ways the Community Foundation can facilitate philanthropy.

“A community foundation is a local, public charity established to meet current and future needs in the community by providing opportunities for people and families to give back to their community in meaningful ways,” Kuhlman said. “In Iowa, there are 17 national accredited community foundations and 83 affiliate foundations. The Fort Dodge Community Foundation is one of the 17 nationally accredited community foundations.”

About the organization

The Fort Dodge Community Foundation and United Way is governed by a 17-member board of directors. John Bruner is the board chairman for 2017 and also chair the current United Way Community Campaign. Bruner is affiliated with Central Financial Group.

There are two full-time and three part-time staff members. Randy Kuhlman is the chief executive officer. Joe Kuhlman is the operations manager. Amy Bruno is United Way program coordinator. Chris Hayek is the finance coordinator. Tonia Hayes is the receptionist.

Kuhlman is enthused about the work the Fort Dodge Community Foundation and United Way undertakes and said being at its management helm is a role he enjoys and finds fulfilling both personally and professionally.

“On the United Way side when we are able to see the impact that United Way donations are making on the lives of kids and their families — and in some cases they are life-changing impacts — that’s obviously very rewarding,” Kuhlman said. “On the Community Foundation side, what’s satisfying is a combination of being involved and maybe providing some leadership on important community projects that are helping improve the quality of life in our community that can help move our community forward. That’s a very satisfying feeling.”

Reflecting on the organization’s accomplishments, Kuhlman is quick to pay tribute to the many community members who donate and volunteer.

“The driving force behind all of the work that we do here is the charitable support that comes to the Community Foundation and United Way from citizens in Fort Dodge who truly care about their community and the truly care about the people in the community,” he said. “That’s so important.”