Great Fish raises $3.2 million for nonprofits

by HEIDI DESCH
Editor | October 28, 2020 1:00 AM

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Representatives of the Whitefish Community Foundation presented Farm Hands - Nourish the Flathead recently with the Great Fish Award, which is given to a nonprofit for its impact on the community and creativity in using the Great Fish Community challenge to tell its story. (Heidi Desch/Whitefish Pilot)

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The Whitefish Community Foundation Board of Directors recently awarded a $15,000 Major Grant to the Whitefish Rotary Charitable Fund for its “Gotta Go Bathrooms” project, aimed at bringing ADA-accessible restrooms to the new playground and pavilion area at Smith Fields. (Heidi Desch/Whitefish Pilot)

More than $3.2 million was awarded to 56 Flathead Valley nonprofits on Monday during a celebratory virtual awards ceremony for the 2020 Great Fish Community Challenge.

Nonprofits who earned donations during the challenge serve a variety of areas in the Flathead Valley including work in health and human services, conservation, recreation, the arts, animal rescue and education. Of the total raised, 47% was allocated to nonprofits established in Whitefish, 41% to Kalispell, 9% to Columbia Falls and 3% to Bigfork.

The Whitefish Community Foundation offers the Great Fish platform to local nonprofits free of charge, and during the seven-week campaign, more than 2,400 donors gave to an average of more than three charities for a total of $2.6 million. Each nonprofit raised an average of about $51,000, which works out to a 20% increase over 2019.

Community Foundation Board Chair Linda Maetzold said even though this year’s awards were announced virtually the foundation didn’t want to miss the opportunity to celebrate the donors and nonprofit partners who raised so much during a challenging year amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Many fundraising efforts for nonprofits this year were canceled and it became clear that the funds raised though our sixth annual community challenge would be vital in sustaining our collective nonprofit community and their programs,” she said. “By the closing bell we were looking at another record breaking year of community support.”

The Great Fish Match Fund grew to more than $600,000 in 2020, awarding the strongest match in the history of the campaign. The Match Fund granted a 56% matching grant on the first $20,000 raised by every nonprofit, resulting in a maximum Great Fish matching grant of $11,200.

The prestigious Great Fish Award, given to a participating nonprofit for their impact on the community and creativity in using the challenge to tell their story, was awarded to Farm Hands - Nourish the Flathead.

During a surprise visit, representatives from the foundation recently presented the large Great Fish statue and a check for $7,500 to the Farm Hands crew at their Columbia Falls office.

Gretchen Boyer, executive director of Farm Hands, said the nonprofit has been part of the Great Fish Community Challenge since its inaugural year and it’s an honor to have their work recognized through the Great Fish award.

“Since then the Whitefish Community Foundation has helped our organization create a plan for sustainability through professionalizing our financials and solidifying our donors,” she said. “We have grown tremendously in the last few years, serving more community members through our food access programs. This would not be possible without the help and outreach of the Whitefish Community Foundation.”

Boyer said the community foundation really stepped up during a crazy year assisting nonprofits.

“As soon as COVID shut down schools and businesses, the foundation provided extra funding for those of us who suddenly saw a huge increase in need for our services,” she said. “We saw a 300 percent increase in our weekend backpack program and were able to meet that in great part thanks to the foundation. Us, as well as many other non-profits, received the necessary funding to service and support our community. We are truly blessed to have them with us, helping our community thrive.”

A participant of the challenge since 2015, Farm Hands does a wonderful job of leveraging the challenge to build awareness of their mission, according to the community foundation. The result is a growing donor base that gave the organization more than $99,000 during the 2020 campaign.

Farm Hands was founded by farmers and food system planners from around the Flathead Valley and focuses on providing access to healthy, local food for members of the community who can’t afford it. They also provide education for beginning farms and school children.

The Great Fish award recognizes the work of Farm Hands to expand student access to food in the Columbia Falls School District through the weekend backpack program and school food pantries, the foundation notes.

The community foundation also awarded $10,500 in incentive grants and $28,000 in special awards, including the Great Fish.

Whitefish Community Foundation Board of Directors also awarded a $15,000 Major Grant to the Whitefish Rotary Charitable Fund for the “Gotta Go Bathrooms” project, to bring ADA-accessible restrooms to the new playground and pavilion area at Smith Fields.

The 2020 Great Fish Community Challenge brings much-needed funding to our nonprofit community at a time when COVID-19 has necessitated the canceling of fundraising events, and caused a soaring demand for services.

Whitefish Community Foundation is dedicated to fostering philanthropy, building endowments, and helping donors and nonprofits benefit the community. For more information about the Whitefish Community Foundation visit www.whitefishcommunityfoundation.org.