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Amy Sullivan, director of the Montana Community Foundation, stands in front of the foundation’s new location on West Front Street. Sullivan made the move from Helena to Missoula in August to start setting up the foundation’s downtown office.

Giving is booming in Montana, and the organization that’s responsible for a lot of it has expanded its physical presence to Missoula.

The Montana Community Foundation, based in Helena since 1988, opened an office space in the historic Florence Building downtown late last month.

“It’s always nice to have a brick-and-mortar place where people can sit down and talk,” noted Riley Meredith, the state foundation’s marketing and communications director in Helena.

An office in Missoula made sense because the area has been a hotbed of philanthropy.

Over the past 20 years, the foundation and its affiliate, the Missoula Community Foundation, have worked with more than 800 individual and organizational donors in western Montana that represent some $8.8 million in donations.

They’ve provided roughly 1,500 grants and scholarship awards totaling more than $3.2 million in the area.

Interests in Missoula County are represented by 47 charitable funds at the Montana Community Foundation, with a combined balance of more than $4.5 million.

The statewide foundation has long operated out of an office in Last Chance Gulch in Helena. Its staff has tripled, from five to 15, since Mary Rutherford came on board as president and chief executive in early 2014.

“She really kind of lit a fire under the foundation and got things moving,” Meredith said.

The uptick is measurable. According to the foundation’s latest annual report, it saw rises of 63 percent in contributions and 30 percent in grants from July 2014 to June 2015. MCF gained more than 400 donors and nearly 1,500 donations in that time, as well as 11 permanent endowment funds and 55 planned gifts.

“Over the last year and a half, we have seen tremendous growth in philanthropy in Montana and in the need for our services,” Rutherford said in a news release last week.

The opening of the Missoula office “is another major step toward better serving our constituents by having a physical location in another community,” she added.

Last year, Rutherford and the foundation's statewide board, which includes Laura Brehm and treasurer Dale Woolhiser of Missoula and Scott Pankratz of the Missoula-based Ecology Project International, formed the Montana Office of Gift Planning.

Its director, Amy Sullivan, made the move from Helena to Missoula in August to start setting up the downtown office. She said this may be the first of other branch offices in the state.

She travels 3,000 miles a month in Montana, Sullivan said, and it “became apparent that people like to see people in their own communities.”

Montana is in the middle of a growth spurt in money transfers as baby boomers seek the best ways to give to their children, said Sullivan. “The sweet spot has always been between 2010 and 2020. I’m finding that we have a place at the table in discussions about how do the estates actually save money and still give to charity.”

The Montana Community Foundation is a nonprofit that gets its funding from a percentage (generally 1 percent) of the $80 million in assets it manages.

The Missoula office at 110 W. Front St. isn’t especially expansive, but it’s a shared home with Sullivan’s Office of Gift Planning and the Women’s Foundation of Montana, directed by Jen Euell.

Euell, in partnership with other women’s foundations, announced last week a pledge of $100 million to create pathways to economic security for American women and their families.

The Missoula Community Foundation has also relocated there from its former headquarters on South Fourth Street East.

“The whole mission is to increase philanthropy in Montana,” Sullivan said. “To be able to do this job is amazing because you’re helping Montana and you’re helping people with estate planning that in some instances, when you’re talking farms and ranches, can be very complicated. We’re in there and helping them in what ways we can to keep some of this wealth here in Montana instead of it all leaving the state.”

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Mineral County, Veterans Issues Reporter

Outlying communities, transportation, history and general assignment reporter at the Missoulian