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From the arts to athletics, the North Dakota Community Foundation is committed to strengthening rural schools through philanthropy.

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Keeping the Beat for Rural Philanthropy

Bismarck, North Dakota

November 25, 2018

The North Dakota Community Foundation (NDCF) is a national leader in regional philanthropy, and the organization is committed to supporting public education throughout what is largely a rural state. As part of our partnership with our North Dakota Hub partners, the North Dakota Small Organized Schools, we interviewed Kevin Dvorak, NDCF President and CEO. Kevin is pictured below.

Where is your hometown? Are you native to North Dakota?

I spent the first five years of my life in Vesleyville, ND. We moved 11 miles to Minto when I began kindergarten. My graduating class numbered 24 students, 16 boys and 8 girls. The opportunities that being in a small school afforded me were many. I participated in four sports at the varsity level, was in the class play, student government, boys state, the annual committee and probably more that I can’t recall. What a rich experience it was for all of us.

What did you do before joining the North Dakota Community Foundation?

I was in sales with a major corporation traveling the western half of North Dakota. That experience taught me customer service, hard work and how to relate to a variety of people.

What is the mission of the NDCF?

The mission of the North Dakota Community Foundation is to improve the quality of life for North Dakota’s citizens by promoting philanthropy and charitable giving.We accomplish this in many ways to include setting up and ongoing support and management of local school foundations so that the schools do not have to run them on their own.

What are the biggest challenges facing small towns in your state?

Every small town is unique with its own strengths and challenges. Some of the common issues are declining populations, low birth rates, lack of economic opportunities, declining local dining and entertainment opportunities as well as retail to include groceries and amenities.

In your mind, why are public schools so important to small towns?

A well-run public school can be a magnet for young families, not only keeping them in town, but drawing new residents as well. In my hometown, the school was the center of activity, especially when winter set in. The concerts, sporting events, programs and plays were well attended by not just the parents of the participants, but by other community members as well.

How does the North Dakota Community Foundation support public education and small rural schools?

We support local schools through our grantmaking from our Statewide Greatest Needs Fund and also from our 65 local community foundations, which are mostly in rural communities. These grants enhance the educational experience and the ability of schools to offer more for their students, parents and the community at large. Some examples of actual projects and programs that these grants have funded include:

  • Replacing outdated and unsafe playground equipment (Grenora, ND)
  • Bringing a week-long theatre workshop to town so area school kids can experience acting and working together on a production, which is presented to the community at the end of the week (Cavalier, ND)
  • Professional development books for educators to use in their group study (Lisbon, ND)
  • New uniforms for their marching band (Stanley, ND)

We also help organize and manage school foundations, which are be used to supplement tax dollars to provide above and beyond educational opportunities. These local school foundations keep capital in the community where it was earned so that the next generations can benefit from those dollars.

If you could wave a magic wand, what steps would you like rural school district communities to take to build a more sustainable future?

From the philanthropic perspective, the use of a local school foundation to capture financial resources is a big step toward sustainability. Those resources can not only reduce the burden on the tax base, but also enhance the community and make your town a more desirable place to live. The local school foundation can be an important piece in the sustainability puzzle.

How can individuals work with the NDCF to make a difference in the future of their schools and communities?

Many of our school foundations were started with the impetus from a donor who wanted to help their alma mater. Their “lead gift” opened the door and inspired the creation of a school foundation to allow others to also help. We have worked with individuals who have come directly to us to provide gifts to support their local school, or to provide scholarship money for students, or to buy a grand piano for the music program. These are just some of the ways that the flexible tool that is a school foundation can be used to serve the needs of those who want to give and the needs of the school and its students.

By working with the North Dakota Community Foundation, the local school foundation has access to assistance from our marketing experts, our planned giving and fundraising experts as well as our state-of-the art accounting and fund management. All of these assets allow you to approach donors in your community with the same sophisticated giving opportunities as any major charity, without having to have those people on your staff - they are included in the partnership with the North Dakota Community Foundation.

We invite you to check out this short film on the work of the North Dakota Community Foundation. In addition, please check out this story on how the Lisbon Community Fund, part of the NDCF, supports its public schools!

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