Amy Nossaman, Treasurer/Board Member
Mahaska County Community Foundation
There are many ways to think about how the County Endowment Fund Program grants can make a strategic difference in your county and communities. Over time, your strategies should likely evolve, just as the needs in your community evolve. The grants being made 15 years ago in your communities are likely not the same grants you are making today because your community is not the same. Amy Nossaman, board member of the Mahaska County Community Foundation, an affiliate of the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines, shares how their community foundation has changed its grantmaking over the years to meet current county needs with larger, strategic invesments through their City Challenge Grants.
In 2005, our board made the decision not to have funding limits. However, in the early years, we did a lot of partial funding in order to ‘spread the love.’ We were also hesitant to make grant awards beyond the $10-15,000 range. Each year, with more experience, we had a lot of conversation around full and partial funding:
- How much was enough for the project to go forward?;
- Do they really need this piece of equipment?; and mostly,
- Are we giving enough to make an impact?
In our 10th year (2015), the board discussed the impact and visibility of grant awards if we were to grow our endowment and build a family of funds under our umbrella. At that time, we developed the City Challenge Grant. This grant is only open to the 10 towns in Mahaska County. The applicant must be ‘The City of ____’ and they can request up to $25K which is about 1/4 of the available funds we have each year.
Additionally, we did not want a set match rate, but did want the city applicant to have ‘some skin in the game’ even if it is in-kind (salaries, machinery, etc). We also met with or had a phone conversation with the city councils/mayors/city clerks to make it clear that the application needed to be beneficial to the town residents. This meant that it was not for road repairs or renovations to the city hall. We wanted those visible projects that may be on the back burner because of funding.
Last year, our recipient was The City of Leighton. Leighton was one of the small towns who lost federal support for their post office. The City Council knew the importance of the post office to the remaining businesses and residents and decided to take ownership of the little building and absorb the payroll expense of a PT postmaster so that their residents would not have to drive the 15 miles to the Post Office in Oskaloosa. The grant helped them with tuckpointing, new windows and doors, upgrades to wiring and lighting, and a new floor, roof, and sidewalk.
Even though Leighton has less than 200 residents, the level of impact on those residents is very high. We learned impact is not always about the number of individuals served!