Charity gap – Montana network on tap

By Todd Cohen

A Montana-based group is working to plug gaps in the nonprofit sector there, and in philanthropy in the 10 states with the fewest foundation assets.

Based in Helena, the Big Sky Institute for the Advancement of Nonprofits is creating a statewide association of nonprofits, says Mike Schechtman, the group’s executive director.

He hopes to raise enough money by this spring to hire an executive director, and hold an annual conference this fall.

The institute also aims to close the “philanthropic divide” for the 10 states with the fewest foundation assets — Alaska, the Dakotas, Idaho, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico, Vermont and Wyoming.

Average foundation assets per state in those states grew to nearly $400 million in 2000 from $63 million 1990, according to Schechtman’s analysis of data from the Foundation Center in New York.

During the same decade, however, the gap in average foundation assets per state between those states and the 10 most-endowed states grew to $25.8 billion from $9.3 billion.

The institute wants to create and pilot in Montana a new grantmaking entity to fund only projects to help nonprofits build their internal operations, including funding for statewide associations. Of the 10 least-endowed states, seven have statewide associations.

Big Sky also is in the early stages of talks with other Western states about forming a consortium to undertake cooperative ventures, such as negotiating group health coverage for nonprofit employees or seeking grants from national foundations.

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