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Mary Rutherford


Right now, somewhere in Montana, there are two families who may never meet — and yet will profoundly influence each other. One needs a little extra help to get on their feet and may struggle to get by. The other has been fortunate enough to be able to provide for themselves, and now they are eager to give back.

As the president and CEO of Montana Community Foundation, I have the humbling job of interacting with both types of families. It reminds me that even though many of our neighbors face tough odds, we are also blessed with families who want to help. I’m proud that our foundation works to create opportunities for charitable giving that enable more families to be a part of making our state a great place to live for all its residents.

Donor advised funds, also called DAFs, are a philanthropic tool that play a unique role in the community. For example, the Disadvantaged Children’s Fund, established at MCF by Richard "Dick" and Cheri Cox of Billings, has been critical to supporting children’s causes in the Billings area and across the state. Why did they choose a DAF at a community foundation like MCF?

The process is relatively simple, letting Dick and Cheri focus on philanthropy instead of administration. DAFs are prudently managed investments; these funds grow over time, so Dick and Cheri can continue giving every year and, eventually, they can pass the joy of giving through this fund on to their children. Perhaps more than anything, it’s the assistance and expertise Dick and Cheri receive – not only in making the best decisions about what gifts make the most sense for them financially, but also the best way to make grants that have the greatest impact. Dick and Cheri have granted more than $350,000 from their DAF, helping the missions of organizations such as the Intermountain Children’s Home, Tumbleweed Runaway Program, Camp Mak-A-Dream, Boys & Girls Club of Yellowstone County, and others. This is just one way neighbors are helping neighbors in Montana.

The donor advised funds at MCF can do a lot to help Montanans give back including:

  • Setting a local agenda for how, where and what to focus on in advancing the common good.
  • Building in flexibility and nimbleness, which can be critical when crises hit, or unexpected opportunities arise: whether it’s replacing a roof on a church, or responding to a natural disaster.
  • Allowing active investing alongside community endowments, which allows charitable funds to grow over time, responding to immediate and future needs.
  • Establishing a tradition of giving that can be passed on from one generation to the next.

In families of more modest means, gifts might start with a few thousand dollars, or a donation of stocks or hard-to-value assets that can nonetheless do a lot of good right in their own community.

Administering funds such as these is a privilege that comes with big responsibilities. That’s why community foundations dedicated to excellence, including MCF, meet the rigorous qualifications of National Standards for U.S. Community Foundations, which sets strict measures for accountability and transparency in giving.

Montana’s greatest strength is in its people. That’s how families from different walks of life can influence each other, even if they never meet. One may benefit from a food pantry; another from showing their children the meaning of giving back. Either way, MCF is honored to connect them, now and for years to come. And, we are here for you now. Just call us at 406-443-8313 or email to discuss how MCF can help you give back to your community.

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Mary Rutherford, of Helena, has more than 25 years of philanthropic leadership experience.