For the good of others
FD Community Foundation and United Way work to provide resources
“Investing in our community, today, tomorrow…forever” – those words are what the Fort Dodge Community Foundation and United Way stand behind.
The organization is also following its mission statement of “to serve as a catalyst for charitable giving – developing charitable resources to support important community programs, services and projects that will benefit the public good and improve the quality of life of all citizens, families and youth in Fort Dodge, Webster County and northwest-central Iowa.”
Randy Kuhlman, CEO of the Fort Dodge Community Foundation and United Way, said the foundation is similar to what other organizations do for other entities.
“Universities, hospitals – they have foundations of their own,” he said. “Those foundations’ missions are to raise charitable dollars to support that hospital or to support the university. The community foundation does the same thing, but our client is the whole community.”
Kuhlman said they encourage people with wealth to consider giving back to their community by establishing a charitable fund through the Fort Dodge Community Foundation.
This can be done through a variety of different ways. Kuhlman explained the most common is through a donor-advised fund.
“The donor establishes a fund with us. Periodically they contact us and say they would like to donate X amount of dollars out of their fund to this non-profit, project or charity, so we do that for them,” he said.
Other funds people can consider are endowed, non-endowed, designated funds, field of interest funds and more.
“Some people will set up a specific fund for a specific non-profit or charitable organization. They ask us to take a certain amount of money out of the fund each year to give,” said Kuhlman. “We try to make it easy for the client. They can manage all of their charitable giving through their own fund with us.”
One specific fund, for example Kuhlman said was developed by a donor that wants to help advance prairie life in Webster County.
“There is a wide range of anything that is public or charitable that we can support,” he said.
Currently, Kuhlman said the Fort Dodge Community Foundation manages over 135 funds with total assets currently under management at nearly $20 million.
That is quite the growth from $1.5 million in 2009 when Kuhlman joined the foundation.
“It’s been a very successful operation,” he said. “I have a great board of community-minded citizens that really care about the community. They work with me to help make decisions and to make grant recommendations.”
In 2020, Kuhlman said there were over 70 different organizations that received financial support from these funds. These funds helped to subsidize project funds for the community such as the Floyd of Rosedale project, trails and more as well as helping those in need.
“There are a lot of quality-of-life kinds of community betterment projects we are often involved in and there’s also projects that are to help people,” he said. “We have people that will donate to various non-profit organizations that are helping children or low-income families that are struggling.”
Kuhlman estimated 75% of the dollars handled by the Fort Dodge Community Foundation go towards projects and programs that are targeted to helping children.
“Our donors tell us they want to help kids,” he said.
The Fort Dodge Community Foundation established 11 new funds in 2020, including a COVID-19 Disaster Response Fund.
This fund was established to help people impacted by the virus with food assistance and other assistance for basic needs.
“The community was very generous of that,” said Kuhlman. “We raised about $140,000 for that fund.”
The year 2020 also brought an opportunity for the Fort Dodge Community Foundation to assist the city of Manson with their grocery store project.
“They approached us and asked for help for the fundraising piece, so we set up the Manson Betterment Fund,” said Kuhlman adding $189,000 was raised in support of the project.
This was one example of how the Fort Dodge Community Foundation steps outside of the Fort Dodge city limits.
“We basically serve Webster County and have an affiliation with Calhoun County,” said Kuhlman.
Oftentimes, Kuhlman said people confuse projects that are funded with dollars from the Fort Dodge Community Foundation to be actually funded with tax dollars.
“People believe anytime the city is involved they automatically think it is tax dollars going to the project, but those charitable donations go through us and it completely keeps taxes out of it,” he said. “The Floyd of Rosedale, for example, there is not one penny of tax dollars going into that. It’s more of a partnership between Fort Dodge Community Foundation and the city of Fort Dodge.”
Kuhlman described the Fort Dodge Community Foundation much like Sweden, in that they are neutral.
“We don’t represent any one particular organization. We don’t represent city government. We have funds that are in partnerships with the city. Our work is all about partnerships,” he said. “We partner with different organizations and agencies.”
Some of those funds include Harlan and Hazel Rogers Sports Complex and other parks, for example, within the community.
“Anybody that wants to give back to Fort Dodge can come to us and say this is what I am interested in and can I set up a fund with you to support my interest? As long as it is considered charitable or public, they can do that,” he said.
Kuhlman said the work done by the Fort Dodge Community Foundation is all done through meeting strict criteria.
Fort Dodge Community Foundation, he said is one of 17 community foundations in the state of Iowa that meets national standards. Every three years, the foundation goes through a rigorous auditing process proving they meet all 26 standards as required by the National Council on Foundation.
In July, 2007, the Fort Dodge Community Foundation and United Way of Greater Fort Dodge merged into one philanthropic organization.
“There are 1,200 United Ways in the country, but we are the only one that is also merged with the community foundation,” said Kuhlman. “We did that because it helps us to leverage our overhead and resources.”
Kuhlman said this merger does more than just save on administrative costs, however.
“It helps us eliminate the issues with competition in the charitable giving world,” he said. “In other communities United Way and the community foundations are separate, but they are often talking to the same people for donations. It can become a turf issue with those kinds of situations, periodically. It gives us the flexibilities to meet everybody’s needs.”
In addition to funding organizations, the Fort Dodge Community Foundation and United Way work with families directly.
Some of these efforts include Wheels for Work where donated cars are reconditioned by Fort Dodge Ford and given to qualified families who have no personal transportation, and other programs providing beds and furnishings for families as well as emergency crisis funds.
To help put the history of Fort Dodge and Webster County at people’s fingertips, the Fort Dodge Community Foundation helped to launch a new historic website last March.
“It was a lot of work, but it was a lot of fun, also, because when you start pulling this stuff out of files and researching it and you go oh my gosh – this is amazing what people did to build this community, how this community started,” said Kuhlman.
There were two goals to the Fort Dodge Community Foundation supporting the site, Kuhlman said.
“One was to really expand the awareness of the robust history of the community by making the information very easy to read and accessible,” he said.
The second goal was to hopefully attract some of the people that may have moved away from the community to donate to the Fort Dodge Community Foundation.
“For some of those that still have a heart for Fort Dodge hoping they will want to give back,” he said.
So far, Kuhlman said it has been successful. Not only have some donors come forward from seeing the new historic website, but an interesting piece of nostalgia has been returned back to Fort Dodge.
A man from West Virginia reached out to Kuhlman about a letter he had found while going through his late mother’s things.
The letter was dated 1857 and was written by a man to his father talking about the expedition he was on with a group of Fort Dodge men that travelled to Spirit Lake to help bury those lost during the Spirit Lake Massacre.
Kuhlman said the letter will be given to the Webster County Historical Society.
To further help share some of the historical information beyond the website, every week, the foundation sends out an e-mail sharing those historical tidbits ranging from iconic homes and buildings; restaurants and businesses that are no longer and more.