In 1999, Southwest Initiative Foundation (SWIF) piloted a local community foundation program to give southwest Minnesotans a way to support the charities, and the places, that were important in their lives, and to retain wealth in this rural region. This idea of giving and grantmaking is at the core of traditional community foundations, but it was a bold new experiment for SWIF, which had established a reputation as an economic development leader.
As an incentive for communities to try this new idea, SWIF offered grants for strategic planning, to help create visibility and local interest in the foundation and to match initial gifts. Four communities signed on during the pilot — Dawson, Appleton, Pipestone and Worthington.
In the early days, SWIF offered communities administrative support including gift processing and receipting, grant processing, investment management and the 501(c)(3) status necessary for donors to receive the highest possible charitable tax deduction.
“It started with a focus on funding and gifts, but quickly grew into helping communities think about their shared values, how they wanted to reinvest,” said Diana Anderson, who managed the pilot as Director of Fund Development and is now the foundation’s President and CEO. “We didn’t treat it as a transactional relationship. We wove in capacity building and leadership development as we saw the work bringing life to our mission at the local level.”
Kevin Paulsen was a founding advisory board member of Pipestone Area Community Foundation and recalls how the investment of SWIF’s energy and resources elevated local leadership.
“SWIF helped not only with the administration of our funds and making sure that we were doing everything legally and correctly, but they also really helped us develop and grow into what we’ve become over the years. Their guidance was invaluable,” Kevin said.
Based on feedback from the pilot partners, it was clear this program offered a valuable service for donors and communities alike. In March 2001, the board approved community foundations as a permanent program. Later, Liz Cheney took over for Diana in guiding communities through the process of getting started and maintaining momentum as SWIF Program Officer.
“I had the honor of meeting and helping wonderful people who really wanted to make their communities even better places to live,” Liz shared. “Their work was visionary, and it was hard. But they brought heart and passion to it, and that made all the difference.”
Today, Liz is the Director of Philanthropy, and Jeff Vetsch serves our community foundation partners as Community Philanthropy Officer.
“The work of community foundations is about giving. Giving out grants yes, but also giving donors a meaningful place to express their generosity,” Jeff said, adding the value of community foundations isn’t only in dollars and cents, but also in strengthening the social fabric.
With two additions in 2019 — Cottonwood and Glencoe — SWIF currently has 28 community foundation partners across southwest Minnesota. The program has been adaptable to each community’s specific needs and wants, while supporting a stronger region as a whole.
“I think our rural communities are part of an ecosystem. When one of our communities does well, there’s a spillover effect. This idea of collaboration is more important than ever,” Diana said.
To celebrate 20 years of supporting local community foundations in southwest Minnesota, we’ve highlighted the four pilot community foundations.
- Read “Pooling resources in Appleton”
- Read “Community spirit of service in Dawson”
- Read “A passion for projects in Pipestone”
- Read “Retaining wealth for Worthington”