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What People Say About Us
"BSI’s Montana Nonprofit Connections Program is one of the most extraordinary examples of capacity building in the country, and serves as a national rural model for collaborative grantmaking."

Janine Lee, Co-Founder Grantmakers for Effective Organizations

President & CEO, Southeastern Council of Foundations
MNC History

BSI created Montana Nonprofit Connections (MNC) to:

  • provide philanthropic resources that would enable nonprofit organizations to improve their management and leadership skills by engaging organizational development consultants; and
  • build the state’s nonprofit infrastructure, by connecting with providers of consulting, training, membership services, and advocacy.
Historically, Montana has had scarce philanthropic resources – it is 49th in foundation assets and 46th in per capita grantmaking. As a result, the state’s nonprofit organizations often lack the funding to engage experts who can assist in the development of programs, leadership, and governance. Concurrently, Montana’s nonprofit sector lacks “infrastructure” organizations, which is not the case in states with higher levels of philanthropic resources.

MNC is one prong of BSI’s strategy to advance Montana’s nonprofit and philanthropic sectors. See BSI Program Overview. It brings together foundations and infrastructure organizations to address the scarcity of in-state resources that help develop organizational capacity.

Early Discussions
Initially, BSI convened some key players to help develop the concept. Janine Lee, a founder of the national Grantmakers for Effective Organizations, offered her expertise in working with foundations. Laurie Bishop of the Solid Rock Foundation, Tawnya Rupe of the Mountain Sky Guest Ranch Fund, and Mark Kelley of the Lora L. and Martin N. Kelley Family Foundation Trust were recruited as early members of the Funders Collaborative. Ned Cooney, former director of a training and consulting nonprofit, was engaged to assist with program development. This group met in May 2006 to discuss how such a program could work in Montana, and began to identify other potential supporters among Montana’s foundations and philanthropists.

Building Momentum
The W.K. Kellogg Foundation provided start-up funding, which allowed for program development early in 2007. At a planned retreat held in June of that year, the group developed core values, vision, and the idea for a statewide seminar about grantmaking for organizational effectiveness. MNC identified a model program called Western North Carolina Nonprofit Pathways and recruited their coordinator Kim McGuire as an advisor. Subsequently, MNC held a one-day seminar on October 25, 2007, in Helena to educate foundations, practitioners, public agencies, and others interested in the model, and in BSI’s plans to launch this kind of program. Montana's Governor Brian Schweitzer addressed the group, and a panel of Indian leaders discussed the development of nonprofits on Montana reservations. Following the seminar, MNC held a retreat to plan the program‘s demonstration phase.

Program Launch
More funders became involved, and then MNC launched a three-year demonstration project. A Nonprofit Advisory Panel met for the first time to provide input about the overall project design, and effective ways to connect to nonprofits throughout Montana. At a third retreat, held in May 2008, MNC finalized decisions about the grantmaking program, eligibility requirements, and key partnerships.

In September of 2008, MNC announced the grants program at the Montana Nonprofit Association's (MNA) annual conference. It posted program guidelines and an application form on the website of the Big Sky Institute for the Advancement of Nonprofits (BSI). MNC then used MNA's electronic newsletter to inform nonprofit organizations throughout the state about the program, reaching over 1,000 subscribers.

During the fall, MNC staff selected seven highly skilled and experienced consultants to conduct the organizational assessments. Staff met with the consultants in October to provide a program overview and to refine the assessment and priority-setting process. MNC funders then met in November to review the 19 applicants for the Assessment Awards and chose seven organizations to receive the first awards. The group also developed the beginnings of a "logic model" to evaluate the porgram's outcome and processes.

In January 2009, MNC assigned an assessment consultant to each awardee. Each consultant then began to communicate with the awardee's board and staff leadership team to gather organizational background materials, survey board and staff members to assess the strengths and challenges facing the organization and plan the facilitated board/staff conversations that are crucial to reaching consensus about priorities for organizational change.


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