Day of Giving and Unity Fundraiser Nets Over $500,000 for Local Nonprofits

Whitefish Community Foundation and Flathead Community Foundation awarded $1,000 matching grants to 78 different charities

By Andy Viano
The sign for the Whitefish Community Foundation. Beacon file photo

More than 1,300 donors helped raise a total of $561,707 for 78 different Northwest Montana nonprofits during a 28-hour fundraiser on May 5-6.

Not too shabby for a first try.

The Day of Giving and Unity — an initiative launched in response to the coronavirus outbreak by the same group that organizes Giving Tuesday the week after Thanksgiving every year — was May 5, and in Northwest Montana two foundations partnered together, while adding a second day, to support local charities. The result was a resounding success, the organizers say, and the combination of the Whitefish Community Foundation (WCF) and Flathead Community Foundation helped bring far-flung nonprofits from throughout Northwest Montana together beneath one banner.

“I’m thinking if we could raise a couple hundred thousand that would be wonderful, and we raised half a million,” Linda Engh-Grady, president of the Whitefish Community Foundation, said. “That’s exactly what (the nonprofits) needed right now, a little shot in the arm to get them through.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted nearly every aspect of daily life and the nonprofit community is no exception. An increased demand at places like food banks and homeless shelters has been met by the economic downturn spurred by the virus, and safety regulations have all but ended any in-person fundraising events for the foreseeable future.

To meet those challenges, the WCF accepted donations online, and Glacier Bank and First Interstate Bank accepted donations via check at their locations in Flathead County and in Eureka. Donors were allowed to specify which of the 78 nonprofits they were donating to, and to spark donations, the WCF offered $1,000 in matching funds to any nonprofit that raised more than $2,000. Seventy-five of the 78 participating organizations raised that amount, meaning the WCF contributed $75,000 to the overall total.

Engh-Grady and Tom LePage, the executive director of the Flathead Community Foundation, collaborated on the fundraiser after LePage’s group was forced to cancel its own annual May drive as a result of the coronavirus. The collaboration allowed nonprofits connected to the Kalispell-based Flathead foundation to take advantage of greater exposure provided by the WCF, which took the lead on marketing the campaign and collecting donations.

“We’ve always been trying to seek collaboration,” LePage said. “This was a shoe-in for us, and the great thing was (WCF) already has the software that made this possible. It was natural that they hosted it, and we were happy to step out of the way and keep that messaging simple.”

The Whitefish Community Foundation’s largest annual fundraiser is the Great Fish Challenge, and with that event scheduled to begin in late July there was some initial hesitation to attempt a new campaign so close to the start of the WCF’s flagship event, which brought in more than $2.8 million in 2019. In the end, however, Engh-Grady said the nonprofit community’s immediate need, the generosity of their donors and the incentive of a matching donation helped convince the WCF to move forward.

“It’s amazing how people have responded,” Engh-Grady said. “When the market is in such flux you don’t know what to expect, and the donors have not let that deter them. They are really giving.”

“People are generous in a crisis,” LePage added. “I was really excited. The generosity of Whitefish including nonprofits all over the county and in Eureka, that was fantastic. That opened a lot of doors.”

The Whitefish Community Foundation also established a COVID-19 emergency response fund earlier this year, and that fund continues to distribute grants to nonprofits throughout the area. Engh-Grady said more than $200,000 in grants have been distributed thus far, including several large grants to the North Valley Food Bank and Flathead Food Bank, and grants will continue to be distributed through the summer as demand at food banks is expected to remain high.

The two community foundations are themselves nonprofits that collect and manage funds, and distribute that money as grants to individual charities. To learn more about the Whitefish Community Foundation, visit whitefishcommunityfoundation.org. The Flathead Community Foundation is online at flatheadcommunityfoundation.org.