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What People Say About Us
"With INA being an all volunteer board with limited time, the help that BSI provided was just what we needed. You were a joy to work with, always respectful, accessible, and sensitive to our needs, and ways of doing things."

Gerald Sherman, Chair

Indian Nonprofit Alliance
Rural Philanthropy Initiatives

Big Sky Institute believes that development of local community foundations (LCFs) is one of the premier strategies for building foundation assets in Philanthropic Divide states. BSI has developed a growing portfolio of incubation and consulting services to assist Montana's LCFs in building endowments, expanding organizational capacities, and hiring professional staff. Future plans include supporting collaborations and networking among Montana's growing LCF community, and providing new financial resources and incentives to help build endowments and capacity.

BSI's projects also focus on creating and building new in-state philanthropic resources, with a special emphasis on serving rural and Native American communities. BSI is spearheading collaborative activities and projects among foundations and other partners to expand philanthropy in Montana, establish new funding programs, and address gaps in the state's nonprofit sector infrastructure.

Current Initiatives:

Montana Local Community Foundation (LCF) Development
Development of County-Wide Community Foundations. Using its core skills in incubating nonprofit start-ups and organizational development, BSI selectively works with individual LCFs to develop vision, core capacities, funding and staffing. BSI's intensive approach is geared to helping LCFs build to sufficient scale so that fundraising and capacity-building can continue and accelerate.

Lewis and Clark County Community Foundation (LCCF) has partnered with BSI since 2000, receiving incubation and consulting services from BSI in exchange for being BSI's "learning laboratory" for an array of LCF development projects. BSI has also been assisting LCCF to expand its staffing, establish an onong internship program and increase its overall financial and organizational self-reliance.

Park County Community Foundation (PCCF) has taken off, following nearly three years of development and incubation led by BSI. A strong, talented Board of Directors has raised over half of a three-year "launch" budget of $350,000. During the Fall of 2007, PCCF hired a full-time, professional Executive Director -- the first local community foundation in Montana to do so. They began their first grantmaking cycle in early 2008. For more information about their grantmaking, please click here.

Promotion and Assessment. BSI has published a first-ever 2008 Guide to Supporting Montana's Local and County Community Foundations. The directory is currently being distributed to professional wealth advisors to inform them about LCFs, the Intergenerational Transfer of Wealth, the Montana Endowment Tax Credit and — most importantly — engage them to encourage their clients to leave a legacy to their community by donating to LCFs.

BSI is conducting an assessment of Montana LCF's strengths, successes and challenges, as well as their training and organizational development priorities. The resulting Lessons From the Field will be disseminated to Montana's LCFs to promote cross-learning among LCFs that are substantially isolated from each other. Assessment activities will explore interest among LCFs in having a statewide conference to facilitate networking and exchange, as well as collaborate on options and actions to address long-term needs.

Montana Nonprofit Connections Grantmaking Program
BSI is working with eight Montana foundations and funders to address Montana's lack of grantmaking programs to build nonprofit organizational capacities and effectiveness. This group is pooling funds and human resources to create Montana Nonprofit Connections (MNC), a state-wide organizational effectiveness grantmaking program. Development of MNC took place during 2007, and grantmaking began in 2008. Click here for listing of all MNC Assessment Awards.

In the Spring of 2009, MNC launched the program's Project Award phase. Grants of up to $5,000 each were awarded to help support engaging a consultant to address organizational development priorities such as planning, fundraising diversification, financial management and leadership development for board, staff or volunteers. MNC Assessment awardees are eligible to apply as are other organizations that have completed a comprehensive assessment and priority setting process. Click here for listing the MNC Project Grants.

Information about Assessment Award and Project Award grant deadlines will be made available through Montana Nonprofit Association's eNews. Interested organizations can sign up for eNews on MNA's home page,

Foundations, funders and individuals that want to learn how to support MNC can contact Michael Schechtman,  Executive Director, at 406-443-5860.

Philanthropy for Montana's Native American Communities
There is a paucity of national philanthropy received by Indian Country. The lack of funding and the need to have Native Americans involved with all efforts to build philanthropy in Montana was discussed at the 2006 Governor's Conference on Endowments and Philanthropy. In response, BSI worked with Indian leaders from the Office of Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer to address these concerns. Capacity building for Indian nonprofits was identified as a major concern and the Indian Philanthropy and Nonprofit Group (IPNG) was subsequently formed. The IPNG organized several planning sessions with leaders from Indian Country, the philanthropic community, the nonprofit infrastructure community and state government. To aid these discussions, BSI researched the variety of modes of Indian philanthropy. The ensuing relationships with participating foundations led to an increase in funding for Indian Country and a number of first-time funding efforts were also initiated. As a result of these efforts, the Indian-controlled Indian Nonprofit Alliance was subsequently created (see Rural Nonprofit Development Initiatives).

The Montana Philanthropy Initiative
Funded by the Steele-Reese Foundation, this initiative enabled BSI to expand existing opportunities and create new vehicles for collaborations with Montana foundations to learn about and address unmet needs for Montana's nonprofit sector. The central focus is to work in partnership with Montana foundations to develop philanthropic and nonprofit infrastructure to help nonprofits build capacity and effectiveness, as well as access more funding. 

Key components include:

Montana Philanthropy Consortium. The Consortium will provide a vehicle for outreach, education, networking and peer learning among foundations interested in a stronger nonprofit sector in Montana. It will provide a hub of connections for regional and national foundations interested in linking up with in-state funders that are engaged in capacity building and infrastructure development.

Collaborative Projects. The Initiative will inform funders about existing collaborations (such as the Montana Nonprofit Connections), and will promote participation by additional funding partners. Collaborations will be sought to pool resources to help LCFs at critical developmental stages, such as initial start-up, and recruitment of staff.

Montana Funders Tour. Inspired by our colleagues in Alaska who conduct an annual, week-long funders tour for regional and national foundations, BSI and other Montana colleagues conducted a similar tour for Montana in the summer of 2009. Preliminary groundwork was laid in 2007 to inform and engage key constituencies and leaders whose participation is essential for success.

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Future Initiatives:
Consulting Services for LCF Development. Beginning in 2008, BSI offered Montana's LCFs an array of options for consulting services to significantly advance their organizational development and fundraising programs, and, in particular, increase their capacity to attract and employ professional staff.

Grants for LCF Endowment Development. BSI has been conducting exploratory discussions with LCFs across Montana, civic leaders and state legislators to test the waters for introducing legislation to create a permanent endowment to advance Montana's LCFs. The earnings from the proposed permanent trust will be used to provide challenge grants to build LCF discretionary endowments that support grantmaking activities, capacity building grants and innovative project grants.

Fund for Montana's Communities. BSI will establish the Fund for Montana's Communities as a permanent funding source to support the research and development stages for BSI's new infrastructure initiatives. Over time, BSI will build the fund to sufficient scale to enable BSI to award grants to other nonprofits to help seed their new initiatives for both philanthropy and nonprofit sector infrastructure development.

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