20 Years Strong—Freeman Community Foundation

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Article courtesy of the Freeman Courier

Jeremy Waltner, Publisher

To accurately and completely realize the impact the Freeman Community Foundation has had on local non-profits, all you have to do is look at the numbers:

• $8,000 for the Freeman Public Library’s building project in 2004;

• $2,000 to the Freeman Baseball Association to help with start-up costs for four new teams in 2006;

• $2,000 to the Freeman Regional Health Services Auxiliary for a new stove in the dietary department at Oakview Terrace in 2008;

• $5,000 for a new play system at Freeman Elementary in 2010;

• $5,000 to Freeman Community Transit to go toward a new van in 2012;

• $7,500 to the Freeman Rural Fire Association to help with a refurbished tanker truck in 2013;

• $5,500 to Heritage Hall Museum for advertising billboards in 2015;

• $5,000 to the city of Freeman for new playground equipment at Lions Park in 2018;

• $25,000 in service scholarships to graduating seniors from Freeman Academy and Freeman Public.

Indeed, the list is long, and it is impressive. Since the first grants were announced locally in October of 2000, the FCF has awarded 134 grants and scholarships totaling $302,632.18. That includes nearly $23,000 in April that fell outside the foundation’s twice-yearly cycle to help with COVID-19 emergency relief funds; the South Dakota Community Foundation was a partner in helping make those funds available.

Emily Hofer, who was active in the FCF for more than a decade before returning to take over as president last year, says the value of the organization cannot be overstated, especially when looking at all of those who have benefited from the funds.

“I would challenge you to find a demographic that hasn’t been impacted by a grant in our community,” she said. “It’s a pretty amazing thing, but I still feel there are people who don’t know about the foundation; who don’t understand what the foundation’s role is. We’re about what we have here and now and what we can do to make the community better.”

That’s the whole idea behind the FCF, the roots of which go back to 1997 when the first board of directors took on a challenge from the South Dakota Community Foundation (SDCF) to raise $100,000 by July 1, 2000; meeting that challenge would mean an addition $50,000 from the SDCF.

As part of that start-up effort, Merchants State Bank matched the first $25,000 raised and, by the July 1, 2000 deadline and with the funds from the SDCF, the endowment stood at $158,695.

Several years later, the foundation benefited considerably from a $333,000 gift from the John R. Waltner estate, bumping the endowment upwards of $500,000. On Jan. 1 of this year, the fund balance was $898,612.16.

“It’s a pretty amazing thing,” says Hofer, whose dad, Ted, served on that founding board as vice president, along with president Philip Svartoien, Jackie Goosen, Pam Ortman, Glenn Roth, Larry Horner, Brad Gering and Stephen Roussos. “A day is going to come when the amount that we have granted will surpass the endowment amount. That’s a testament to the people who were the brainchild of this foundation — our founding board members who worked really hard to secure that first matching grant and the first bundle of funds to get it started and to have a long-term vision.”

The FCF takes grant applications on a twice-a-year cycle, with deadlines on May 1 and Nov. 1. As the endowment increases, so does the amount the foundation is allowed to distribute through a formula established by the state. There is no set number of grants that will be awarded per cycle, nor is there an established dollar amount awarded per grant. Rather, the funds are allocated on a case-by-case, cycle-by-cycle basis as determined by the board.

The FCF does, however, take into consideration that $4,000 will be used for service scholarships to graduating seniors, which are awarded to students based largely on service to the community and leadership qualities. The FCF also needs to reserve enough money in the coffers for the second round of grants later in each calendar year.

Beyond that, there’s just one big question: What will these mean for the greater good of the Freeman community?

“We like to see large impact,” says Hofer. “We like to see other community support, maybe in-kind labor or materials. We are a partner in these projects, so we want to make sure it has other community support.”

Hofer says the FCF looks at the wide demographics — populations that may be underserved in our community, like the ESL (English as a Second Language) program that received $2,100 as part of the May 1, 2020 grant cycle that included COVID-19 emergency funds from the South Dakota Community Foundation.

“We were really excited about it,” said Hofer. “We did not know there were seven volunteers in the Freeman community helping over 40 people in ESL. It’s exciting to be able to help them with technology so they can continue doing these lessons in spite of the fact that we can’t get together anymore — at least for now.”

Hofer says the number of grant applications the FCF receives varies from one cycle to the next and that very few applications are denied.

“There have been some that don’t really serve the Freeman community, or are invisible in the Freeman community,” says Hofer. “We have one place that applies every single cycle that really doesn’t have anything to do with Freeman, so we nicely tell them that this doesn’t meet the guidelines.”

And what are those guidelines?

The crux of it is included in the first of several sections of criteria included on the FCF website, freemancommunityfoundation.org, where grant applications are available. The first section reads:

Freeman Community Foundation (FCF) will strive to support a broad spectrum of projects intended to improve and enhance the Freeman community. Determination of recommendation for approval will be based upon need, creativity in addressing community concerns, community volunteer support, and accountability. FCF funds will not be awarded to subsidize normal operating expenses. FCF will not consider any loan requests. 

The criteria also notes:

The Freeman Community Foundation encourages match funding. When the Board perceives the need for more local involvement and support of a given project in order to establish ownership by the community, it may require challenge grants in any proportion. Grant funding may be contingent upon acquisition of the required matching money. 

All applications are reviewed by the full board, which then decides which grants to award, and for how much.

“We’re really project-based; that’s what we tend to focus on in the grant side of things,” Hofer says. “The more detail we get in a grant application, the better. That helps us determine what part of the project we may want to support so we can at least funnel some money that way.”

Hofer says the growth of the endowment has had a direct impact on both the number of grant applications that were approved and the funds distributed.

In 2000, the first year that grants were awarded, the FCF gave $1,500 to two organizations.

In 2007, $7,500 was awarded to five organizations.

In 2010, $14,300 was allocated, and in 2017 that number had exceeded $19,000.

This year, the FCF will have about $44,000 available for non-profits and scholarships; $20,000 of that was ear-marked for coronavirus response.

“In the beginning years, the requests far outweighed what was available,” said Hofer. “We had far more denials and partial-approvals. But as our endowment has grown and we’ve had that higher balance over time, we’re able to do a lot more. We are leveraging as best we can to give as much support to the community as we can.”

Twenty years after that matching grant challenge from the South Dakota Community Foundation, Hofer looks at the two decades worth of grants and the 25 scholarships that have been awarded and feels good about what the organization has been able to do.

“It’s been really good,” she says. “The impact has been great.”