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What did you do about two weeks ago, on Tuesday, May 6? That day the Missoula Community Foundation raised $136,000 in 24 hours for local nonprofits, exceeding all expectations. So no matter what else you did that Tuesday, a lot of you gave away money.

Missoula had the highest number of gifts for a town of under 100,000 in the United States. That’s according to the Kimbia organization, which administered the website for Give Local America, the national day of giving through community foundations. More than 1,900 individuals and groups in Missoula contributed almost $120,000 to 90 Missoula nonprofits – that’s an average of $61 per individual gift, which is a hefty amount, and that amount earned us another $17,000 in grants and matching funds. The 90 nonprofit organizations received, on average, over $1,500 each.

That’s really significant, said Dan Gillett, CEO of Kimbia, because there are many towns of our size in the nation with a lot more money. “$136,000, in 24 hours, from Missoula, is incredible,” said Gillett, who should know: he used to live here.

Jen Marangelo of the Butterfly House, a relatively new and unknown nonprofit, was ecstatic. They made almost $4,800. “As a giver,” she said, “it was so easy… the list of 90 nonprofits got me motivated, and the website was so easy to negotiate. And as a receiver, watching the real time results piling up for your charity and others – it was fascinating. It gave me a real boost in spirit, watching those results come in.”

The Kimbia staff said that nationally, the web presence with instant results and the social media connections making a buzz that day in each community, seemed important to their success.

That Tuesday, also the first day nationally for giving through community foundations, set a record for charity in one day in America: over $50 million in contributions, from over 300,000 donors. The average gift nationwide was $112.92.

Community foundations owe a lot to Cleveland. In 1914, that city looked at John David Rockefeller’s foundation, set up from his oil money, and they saw how the invested money grew and the interest went to charity. Cleveland asked, why couldn’t a community pool its money and do the same thing? They did, and in the 1930s and ’50s Congress, looking at the results, thought community foundations were a great idea, and gave them special tax advantages to encourage investment in, well, communities. Right now, for instance, if you invest with a Montana Community Foundation, you may receive significant federal and state tax deductions and credits, well beyond a simple charitable deduction.

Missoulians John and Sue Talbot were instrumental in setting up the Montana Community Foundation serving the entire state (Seeley Lake, for instance, has an exemplary community foundation). Dale Woolhiser has been shepherding the Missoula Community Foundation since 2001 with a series of foundation boards, nursing it from a small grants agency to a foundation with an endowment. Meredith Printz is the executive director, who set up “givelocalmissoula.“

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Ten years ago, among college towns of about Missoula’s size, Austin, Texas had the most successful community foundation in the country, with an endowment of over $80 million (they, like Rockefeller, had some oil money). At 5 percent interest, that’s $4 million a year to hand out to the local arts and nonprofits. We wouldn’t mind that, would we?

From the results of the May 6 fundraising, it looks like Missoula is on the path to an impressive community foundation of its own. For more information, visit the Missoula Community Foundation website at missoulacommunityfoundation.org.

By the way, two weeks ago the icemakers at Pineview Park rink in the Rattlesnake received a Neighborhood Volunteers award from the city. Know how they make such good ice by hand? Their tractor has a power broom on the front. How could they afford that secondhand, $1,500 item, 10 years ago? A small grant from the Missoula Community Foundation, that’s how. What goes around, comes around.

Bill Bevis is a writer, retired professor and icemaker. He has lived in Missoula since 1974, and has served on the board of the Missoula Community Foundation.

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