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Giving more by working together

If it is truly better to give than to receive, then CommunityGiving will be the best at what it does.

Donor Relations Coordinator Courtney Schmidt (left) is greeted by administrative assistant April Burton at the downtown St. Cloud suite of the Central Minnesota Community Foundation and Community Giving. Photo by Frank Lee

The St. Cloud-based CommunityGiving is a collaboration of community foundations — in areas such as Alexandria, Brainerd, Central Minnesota, Willmar and more — that are “united under a single framework to create efficiencies that maximize the impact” of their generous donors.

“The idea was to do more of a ‘best practices’ as far as how can we work the best with these affiliates,” said Maryanne Mahowald, board chairwoman of CommunityGiving, located in the same downtown St. Cloud building as the Central Minnesota Community Foundation. “The thing that CommunityGiving and our affiliate foundations are really focusing on is helping our donors leave their legacy in the communities that they built their careers and started their family in, and being able to tell those stories of those people and giving them that opportunity to make an impact where it is closest to their hearts.”

Maryanne Mahowald, CommunityGiving board chairwoman and Steve Joul, president & CEO of CommunityGiving

Mahowald’s grandfather founded Mahowald Insurance Agency, which is located on West St. Germain Street in downtown St. Cloud, just blocks away from the Central Minnesota Community Foundation and CommunityGiving, which are found along Seventh Avenue South.

Those core foundations working with CommunityGiving include the Alexandria Area Community Foundation, the Brainerd Lakes Area Community Foundation, the Central Minnesota Community Foundation (CMCF) and the Willmar Area Community Foundation.

“If we had an umbrella organization that had a board that was made up of representation from every affiliate, it would be a better governing board … and we could really eliminate a lot of duplication of services,” she said of CommunityGiving, the new partnership in philanthropy.

“For example, each affiliate has its own director and depending on the size of the affiliate, they have some support staff , so there’s one website and then each affiliate has their own portal on it, and there is one finance person rather than everybody having their own.”

Setting up a fund

Past CMCF Board Chairman Dennis Gregory and Brian Myres, who chaired the CommunityGiving task force, wanted to “create the right structure to sustain these partnerships” — and maybe even create new ones — with the result being CommunityGiving’s creation.

Collectively, CommunityGiving administers more than 650 funds, which have been established by individuals and organizations, totaling more than $123 million, according to its website,

“Every community has its own personality, its own passions for different programs and needs in their respective communities,” said Mahowald, who has a CommunityGiving donor-advised fund with her husband John, who was the managing partner of Mahowald Insurance Agency.

The fund allows them to participate in the grant-making process by making recommendations for grants to specific organizations from the fund; a donor advisor also may work closely with the staff of CommunityGiving to select grant recipients, according to

Donors to CommunityGiving and its partners use a variety of assets — from appreciated stock to real estate to cash — to make gifts to any of the existing specialty funds or they can create their own named fund, and funds may be customized to meet a particular charitable goal.

“Say, at the end of the year, we decide ‘OK, we want support this and this,’ then we give the list of our donations to the office, and they send out money to our designated recipients, so it really is a great system; you don’t sit and write a lot of checks during the year,” she said of their fund.

CommunityGiving’s board and staff work closely with a network of volunteers, donors, nonprofits and professional advisors from across the communities it serves “to create opportunities for lasting impact,” according to the philanthropy partnership’s website.

Charitable giving

Brenda Felling Jennissen is the board chairwoman of the Sauk Centre Area Community Foundation, but her family also has a fund with the foundation, so she knows from a donor perspective as well how CommunityGiving can help area foundations and donors do better.

“My parents started Felling Trailers in Sauk Centre, and they worked really hard and were very fortunate and blessed in having success,” said Jennissen, who now co-owns with her sister the Minnesota-based company started by their parents, Merle Joseph and Kathy Felling.

Felling Trailers Inc. began in a small welding shop in downtown Sauk Centre in 1954 — known then as Sauk Centre Welding & Machine Works Inc. — doing repairs and small custom welding and fabrication jobs for local farmers and businesses, according to the company’s website.

“We love to help support and have a very thriving community to live in — a place that people would want to move to — and so it’s our hope that by creating a fund within Community Foundation, we’ll ensure others will as well and see the community continue to thrive,” she said.

Merle J. Felling had bought the business and noticed the lack of workmanship in many of the trailers that were coming through his shop, so he started making custom trailers that caught the attention of many of his customers, and he launched the Felling Trailer product line in 1975.

“By creating a donor-advised fund, it is our way of being able to give back to the community in which we have our business,” she said. “We feel it’s actually important to help our local community to be the best it can be, and we have team members that live here in Sauk Centre.”

According to “The primary focus of CommunityGiving is to help donors create lasting legacies by managing their charitable funds and connecting them with community-minded partners to engage and support local causes,” such as Dollars for Scholars in Sauk Centre.

Some of the Jugaard Leadership Program participants pictured at the Central Minnesota Community Foundation dinner. Contributed photos

“By CommunityGiving coming into Sauk Centre and having that umbrella relationship here in Sauk Centre, it’s been great because we’ve been able to keep the focus local … and this is a way to give back locally that we didn’t have before,” she said of beneficiaries like food shelves.

Ways that community-oriented nonprofits or organizations have benefited from the Sauk Centre Area Community Foundation’s involvement include “spark plug” grants that help projects get started or allow them to be completed, such as Community Connection of Sauk Centre.

“It’s great CommunityGiving really highlights the smaller, local communities whereas your really big foundations — mainly out of the metro or urban areas –help the suburbs but maybe not necessarily the rural areas, which is what we love about CommunityGiving,” she said.

Philanthropy partnership

Central Minnesota Community Foundation Founder Alex Didier believed that if a community foundation was created, generous people would step up and give back to their local communities.

“For 30 years, the Central Minnesota Community Foundation, along with its partner foundations have fueled positive change, transforming today’s goodwill into tomorrow’s legacies,” according to an October 2015 announcement heralding the creation of CommunityGiving.

Steve Joul is the president and CEO of CommunityGiving. The Sauk Centre Area Community Foundation (SCACF) is CommunityGiving’s latest foundation to be a part of the philanthropy partnership, according to Courtney Schmidt, CommunityGiving donor relations coordinator.

“They have access now to more services that help get the Community Foundation going, such as our investment board and committee, our website and just the experience that our staff has,” she said of the Sauk Centre foundation partnering up.

CommunityGiving also hosts Community Foundations in areas such as Foley, New London-Spicer, Paynesville and Rocori, which are supported by a local advisory board but partner with one of the four affiliate foundations in Alexandria, Brainerd, Central Minnesota and Willmar for help.

“They are provided a lot of resources, like our staff,” she said. “And we have the whole grant and scholarship program application already set up, so when they are trying to give the money back out into the community, that process is streamlined and we can help them do that already.”

According to CommunityGiving’s 2016 annual report, it awarded 1,526 total grants, had assets totaling $114.1 million, received $9.6 million in total contributions, granted $7.3 million from 2015-2016, with more than 88 percent of all grants awarded staying in Minnesota.

Of the top five recipients, about 32 percent of the grants go to human services, about 22 percent to education, about 12 percent to religious/ministry, about 9 percent to youth and about 8 percent to civic affairs, according to the annual report.

CommunityGiving recently received reaccreditation with the nation’s highest standard for philanthropic excellence, a process CommunityGiving has completed for the third time in its history, it was announced in March of the National Standards for U.S. Community Foundations.

The accreditation program requires community foundations to document their policies for donor services, investments, grant making and administration and is designed to provide quality assurance to donors, as well as to their legal and financial advisors.

“When people make a charitable bequest or establish a fund, they are putting their trust in us,” Joul said of the reaccreditation.

“They are counting on us to manage the investment wisely, honor their charitable wishes and, in some cases, provide lifetime income to a loved one. The National Standards accreditation says our house is in order.”

For more information about CommunityGiving, call (320) 253-4380 or visit

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