By Dillon Tabish
This year the Flathead Community Foundation is celebrating 10 years as a public nonprofit organization that connects donors with a variety of charitable groups and causes in the valley. The foundation has awarded more than $700,000 in donor-advised grants to local nonprofits in recent years, as well as being the title sponsor for the Montana Dragon Boat Festival. Lucy Smith serves as executive director of the foundation alongside its local board of directors, who all together stand out as important community stewards.
Flathead Living: How did you end up in the Flathead Valley?
Lucy Smith: I was married at the time and living in Boulder, Colorado. My husband was born in Montana and had always wanted to return to this state. He finally realized his dreams in the 1980s and I came to Montana for the first time. Had it not been for him, I might never have come to this remarkable place. It was a tough move at first and I was homesick for my friends, family, and Boulder’s highly engaged community. But before too long, the Flathead Valley became home for me, too – and I cannot imagine living anywhere else.
FL: What kept you here?
Smith: Without question, it was the people I came to know very well, and the deep personal connection with this community that I acquired through volunteer and professional involvement with our local United Way, Rotary Club, Glacier Symphony & Chorale, Literacy Volunteers, Hockaday Museum, and a network of dedicated nonprofits whose commitment to the welfare of everyone and everything in this community inspires me to this day. I have always considered myself a global citizen, at home everywhere in the world. My experiences as a Third World volunteer were some of the most important in my life and I hope to have more of them (although I am not getting any younger). As the years go by, I realize that with all the places and all of the people I have come to love around the world, this valley owns my heart.
FL: How did you become involved with the Flathead Community Foundation (FCF)?
Smith: Interestingly, my initial involvement with the foundation was unknown by anyone in the organization. In 2003, as I was preparing to spend 2-3 years in East Africa as a volunteer project director, I decided it would also be wise to prepare my will. I designated the Flathead Community Foundation’s Endowment Fund among my beneficiaries. Community foundations make it possible for people of any means to make a lasting gift to the place that has been the container for their lives. I couldn’t predict what would be the most important needs of the Flathead in the years after my death, but I trusted that my local community foundation’s board and advisors would use my gift effectively and appropriately.
In late summer of 2011, founding board president, Nancy Davis, informed me that FCF was ready to hire its first executive director and that my name had been proposed for candidacy. I was just finishing several wonderful years in various staff positions with the Hockaday Museum of Art and not quite ready to think about what I would do next. Becoming the first director for a young community foundation sounded like a pretty big leap but a tremendous opportunity to give back to my adopted hometown. It has been all of that and more.
FL: What are the priorities of the foundation when it comes to finding projects, events or organizations to support?
Smith: Community foundations help private donors organize their charitable giving, and we have the privilege of facilitating their support for causes they care about most. As a result, the Flathead Community Foundation has awarded more than $700,000 in donor-advised grants to local nonprofit organizations since 2008. As is true for community foundations across the United States, FCF’s goals for community grantmaking are to advance equity, diversity and inclusion. Grant projects are thoughtfully evaluated for their capacity to be successful, sustainable, of significant impact, and to improve or preserve quality of life in the greater Flathead Valley. We give high priority to efforts that create positive, substantive change and work to resolve problems at their source. We believe that the most effective giving is done close to home, and that creative and sustainable solutions come from people who work in partnership to address common needs and desires.
FL: How do you approach people about giving back? What are some of the aspects you emphasize to encourage them to support nonprofit efforts or charitable endowments?
Smith: We remind people the same things we remind ourselves: You may have grown up in the Flathead, left and returned, or maybe you never left. Whatever your circumstances, this community has been good to you. Many of the things you cherish and even depend upon for your health and well-being are the legacy of generous people who came before you and left behind their gifts for the Flathead’s next generation. You, too, can give back with a gift to the Flathead’s future.
For more information about the Flathead Community Foundation, visit flatheadcommunityfoundation.org or call 406-756-9047.