A little over five years ago, I moved to Missoula to take over as the executive director of Camp Mak-A-Dream. As a practicing physician for the previous 15 years, I had only a small amount of nonprofit management experience, as a long-distance board member of Camp Mak-A-Dream. The prospect of being executive director was daunting and the learning curve steep.
Of the multitude of challenges facing me at the beginning of my tenure at Camp Mak-A-Dream, there were two in particular which concerned me greatly: the number of nonprofits in the community with the likely competition for the dollar that I expected would come with it, and the cultivation of major donors. Fortunately, within one month of starting my new job, I received an invitation to attend a meeting of Legacy Montana.
Ten years ago, Jean Bowman, in association with the national Leave a Legacy program, brought together a group of 27 nonprofits with the purpose of educating the public about the importance and impact of planned giving could have on their favorite nonprofit – to make the public aware of how easy it is to leave something to a favorite nonprofit in a will or trust. A few years later, the group decided to break from the national organization and start Legacy Montana. This year, 51 nonprofits participate in Legacy Montana.
Since I arrived at Camp Mak-A-Dream, we have received at least one significant planned gift per year. These gifts have allowed us to enhance programs that otherwise would not have been possible. We have seen tremendous benefits, which I must believe are due, in part, to the work of Legacy Montana.
As important as the effort is to make Montanans aware of planned giving, there is a secondary benefit of this group, one that likely would surprise many Missoulians. During winter and spring, a group of nonprofit executives and employees with different skills gather several times a month to discuss and plan strategies for print ads and other media ads, website updates, service club talks, news appearances, reader boards and display board exposure.
The collaboration seen in the room is nothing less than magic and powerful. The sharing of ideas, the collegiality, and the relationships and collaborations formed at these meetings transcend well beyond the time and locale of these gatherings. From Camp Mak-A-Dream’s standpoint, we have been able to tap into other organizations’ areas of expertise, and enhance our fundraising efforts and our programs as a result of relationships formed through Legacy Montana. I suspect this is true of the other participating organizations.
It is true that there are many nonprofits in our area. It is true there are limited monies to go around, especially in our economic climate. However, there are resources beyond the dollar that help all of us fulfill our missions. And because of Legacy Montana, we see that sometimes the best way to fulfill an individual organization’s mission is to help fulfill the missions of other organizations through the sharing of ideas and resources. That way, every one of us benefits.
Stuart J. Kaplan is executive director of Camp Mak-A-Dream, and writes from Missoula.