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Community Foundation and United Way

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen United Way Program Coordinator Amy Bruno, left, along with Campaign Chair Lisa Wilson, work together on the annual campaign in the offices of the Fort Dodge Community Foundation and United Way.

The Fort Dodge Community Foundation and United Way is a nonprofit organization that makes charitable giving easier by linking those with philanthropy in mind with the worthy recipients. It is a multifaceted clearinghouse for a wide assortment of projects and causes.

“Our mission is to be a catalyst for philanthropy and to encourage people to give back to the community,” said Randy Kuhlman, who has been the organization’s chief executive officer since 2009. “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.”

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, 24 N. Ninth St., Suite B, was created in July 2007. It has 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 distinct functions. There is, however, an overarching goal that unites the diverse projects supported — encouraging people to give back to their community. Kuhlman said linking potential donors with the multiple ways that can be accomplished is at the heart of what the organization does.

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen Randy Kuhlman is chief executive officer and president of the Fort Dodge Community Foundation and United Way.

United Way

The United Way side of the organization raises funds to support a growing number of programs and services. Kuhlman said many of these undertakings are designed to help disadvantaged youths and their families.

“For the past several years, based on conversations with our donors as well as our board, we have identified as our top priority to invest in program services and initiatives that will help youths in our community reach their full potential academically and developmentally,” he said. “We do that through supporting a variety of partner agencies as well as supporting individual unique programs or opportunities that arise. We have about 20 partner agencies.”

United Way of Greater Fort Dodge is essentially a humanitarian undertaking, but Kuhlman said helping young people thrive has many long-term positive benefits not only for them, but also for the community.

Helping build a future workforce is on such beneficial outcome.

“Based on research, we can safely say that 50 percent or more of the youths now in Fort Dodge are going to be our future workforce,” he said. “Maybe the No. 1 factor for companies in our Fort Dodge community — especially the large companies — if they want to grow here is determining whether we will have the labor force to meet their needs. If our primary sector companies feel like Fort Dodge isn’t going to be able to give them the labor force they are going to need, they are going to have to expand and grow elsewhere. So, through United Way and investing in the services that we offer, we can help these youths reach their full potential. They can become good, productive employees. That’s going to help primary-sector companies in Fort Dodge grow here, stay here, flourish here and ultimately our community will grow and flourish as well. That’s the big picture perspective.”

Financial support for United Way projects and partners comes from an annual fundraising drive. The 2016-2017 campaign seeks to raise $450,000.

Kuhlman said the money United Way channels to about two dozen local nonprofits helps them deliver much-needed services. That is the primary result of the fundraising effort.

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

“We support some individual programs that are managed by United Way such as our Bridging the Gap program and Wheels for Work,” Kuhlman said.

Bridging the Gap is a furniture donation project. Wheels for Work is a vehicle donation program. Both address urgent needs of families in crisis.

“Through Bridging the Gap we’ve been averaging helping 50 to 60 families a year and probably close to 125 kids,” Kuhlman said. “The biggest need is beds. Our Beds for Kids program is approaching giving out 800 beds. The Bridging the Gap program, which has been in operation about five years, came about because we were informed by one of our partner agencies that we had kids in our community who were sleeping on floors.”

Wheels for Work is done in partnership with Fort Dodge Ford Toyota.

“Typically, it is for families with children who currently have no transportation,” Kuhlman said. “They are donated through us and then Fort Dodge Ford accepts the vehicles and they will inspect them and fix the vehicle up to make sure when we donate it is good, running safe condition.”

He said this project makes about five to 10 vehicles each year available to deserving recipients.

“The rest of the programs we fund rather than manage or we may spearhead an initiative by developing a collaborative approach,” Kuhlman said.

One such effort currently underway is strengthening the Meals on Wheels program in Fort Dodge. Delivering meals to more people who are homebound is the mission.

“We’re hoping that the program will be delivering more meals by mid-February,” Kuhlman said.

Identifying unserved or underserved needs is a priority for United Way of Greater Fort Dodge, according to Kuhlman.

“This year we are going to continue to identify opportunities to support our youths,” he said. “We also are looking at some collaborative planning around how we can help the under-skilled families in our community advance their skills working in partnership with our partner agencies and programs that are offered at Iowa Central.”

Making certain that people can learn about the existing sources of help is part of the agenda at Fort Dodge Community Foundation and United Way.

“We implemented a website called FortDodgeResources.com that lists every human service/social service agency in Fort Dodge and all the contact information,” Kuhlman said, noting that this online compendium has been available for about two years.

Community Foundation

The Community Foundation aspect of the enterprise involves developing charitable funds that support a broad range of community betterment project 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’re at 110 funds that we manage,” Kuhlman said. “They include both endowed and non-endowed funds. Some are donor-advised. Some are designated funds. Our assets under management is approaching $13 million. That’s about a 5 percent increase from a year ago. Our goal, of course, with the Community Foundation is to continue to grow in volume of dollars as well as the number of funds.”

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.”

Unlike the United Way focus, which is basically humanitarian, the Community Foundation has broader aims, including enhancing the quality of life locally by supporting diverse betterment projects.

Many of the projects backed through the Community Foundation component are intended to make Fort Dodge a better place to live. In doing so, they also 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.

“There are still a lot of people who don’t understand what a community foundation is,” he said. “We have very flexible charitable giving vehicles to help and encourage people to give back to their communities. The state of Iowa is a national leader in this arena of community foundations. Every county has a community foundation. There are 15 community foundations in Iowa that are nationally certified by the National Council on Foundations. We are one of them. They have a rigorous set of standards that we have to comply with. We have to recertify every five years.”

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. He is a financial representative with Central Financial Services.

There are two full-time and three part-time staff. 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 receptionist.

Kuhlman said growing the organization’s ability to meet assorted needs is challenging.

“In 2016, between the Fort Dodge Community Foundation and United Way we granted out over $1,260,000,” he said. “The needs are triple what we were able to give out. More growth allows us to make more grants to enhance the community. These grants on the Community Foundation side are really grants that are helping enhance the quality of life and well-being in our community. United Way grants are really targeted more on the community services side.”

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

“No. 1, the job gives me the opportunity to work with a wide range of really great people who have a love for their community and a commitment to the Fort Dodge community,” he said. “The work we do is really kind of motherhood and apple-pie work, I guess. All your work is about trying to help people or help the community. So, it’s a very rewarding type of work. It fits both my skill sets and my passion.”

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