2023 Great Fish Community Challenge Starts Off Strong

The Flathead Valley nonprofit fundraising drive generated a little over $1 million in its first week, a new record

By Mike Kordenbrock
The sign for the Whitefish Community Foundation. Beacon file photo

The 2023 Great Fish Community Challenge is off to a hot start, with the five-week Flathead Valley nonprofit fundraising drive having generated a little over $1 million in its first week.

That’s a new one-week record “by leaps and bounds,” says Alan Davis, the president and CEO of the Whitefish Community Foundation (WCF). Just last year, the Great Fish Community Challenge raised $308,000 in its first week. This year’s one-week total is $1,062,112.

Davis stepped into his role at WCF in January 2023, and he pointed out a few structural factors that may be contributing to the relatively fast rate of fundraising, including the addition of eight participating nonprofits to bring the total up to 78, and a reduction in the length of the challenge from six weeks to five. But by and large, he credited groups for being proactive ahead of the fundraiser’s Aug. 10 kickoff.

“I think everybody just did a really good job promoting the challenge ahead of time to their donors, and so people are ready for it.”

Davis added that some organizations, like North Valley Music School (NVMS), are in the midst of capital projects, and so they have even greater incentive to rally donors. On the first day of the challenge, WCF offered a $1,000 incentive grant to whichever organization had the most donors on launch day. NVMS had somewhere in the range of 175 people give on day one, and as of Aug. 18, the Whitefish music school sat atop the challenge leaderboard, with $89,957 dollars raised from 202 weekly donors. That’s a little less than double the amount raised so far by the North Valley Food Bank, last year’s overall first place-finisher, which had brought in $46,295 from 57 weekly donors by the same time.

Part of what drives nonprofits to participate in the challenge is the promise of matching funds, which allow their donors to make an even greater impact. So far this year, the Great Fish Match Fund has raised $316,554. Last year it raised $800,000 in total, and Davis said he’s hoping this year’s challenge can raise $1 million in matching funds.

“Nonprofits can leverage that match with their donors,” Davis said. “It’s an awesome model because they can say to their donors ‘Look, we’ve got this incredible opportunity for you to give now, during the challenge because the Whitefish Community Foundation is going to match your gift.’”

The way the challenge is structured, the first $20,000 of each nonprofits gifts are eligible for matching, and nonprofits must raise at least $10,000 in order to receive matching funds. The challenge has raised over $22 million for more than 85 nonprofits since 2015, according to the WCF website, and last year it raised more than $5 million.

“We’re trying to get as many people aware of the campaign as we can, and obviously I think the message we’re trying to put out to anybody in the Flathead Valley is, I guarantee in anybody’s life, a nonprofit is doing something that impacts your life,” Davis said. “Whether it’s a hospital foundation or a local firefighter group or organization … there’s something in your life that you can connect with with one of these nonprofits, and now is the time to give back and support them.”

First Interstate Bank in Whitefish hosted the launch party on Aug. 10, and Davis said it was a fun and inspiring atmosphere with great turnout. Pop-up donation stations are springing up throughout the valley each week, but the next major event planned is the Sept. 9 Great Fish Fun Run and Community Celebration.

The run, which is centered around Depot Park in Whitefish, includes 5k and 1-mile events, food by Piggyback BBQ and interactive booths from participating nonprofits. Top finishers will win a grant for their participating nonprofit of choice. Advanced registration is required. More information about the Great Fish Community Challenge, and the Great Fish Fun Run and Community Celebration can be found at whitefishcommunityfoundation.org.

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