By Dave Olson on Sep 19, 2015 at 1:05 a.m.
FARGO — The FM Area Foundation has been around since 1960, but its profile has always been low key.
Now, the agency is looking to boost community awareness with a spiffy new home and an ongoing commitment to making things better, said Tim Beaton, the foundation’s executive director.
“We’re still in that position where we don’t think people recognize who we are and what we do in the community,” said Beaton, who gave this thumbnail description of how a community foundation differs from, say, a large private foundation that is set up based on an initial large endowment.
“Community foundations are an aggregate of a lot of small amounts of money from a lot of people put together to do good in the community,” he said.
Over the decades, the FM Area Foundation has given more than $38 million back to the community through grants and scholarships, handing out about $2.4 million last year alone.
The annual amount given to various causes is about 3.5 percent of the endowment total, which Beaton said is a conservative approach that reflects the community the foundation serves.
When someone makes a relatively small donation to the foundation, they can request that the money be put toward one of four focus areas: basic human needs; the arts, culture and creativity; education; and community building.
There is also a women’s fund, which last year reached the $1 million endowment level.
A donation of $25,000 or more entitles a donor to provide input on where the funds might be used.
During the agency’s history, there have been myriad donations carrying a variety of wishes about what the money should support.
Beaton shared the story of North Dakota State University professor Clarence Schilling, who lived alone in an apartment near the university and who walked to and from work, feeding birds and squirrels with food he carried in his pockets.
“The story goes that when he died he left $100,000 to us with the charge that we should feed the birds and squirrels in Fargo-Moorhead for eternity,” Beaton said.
The foundation strives to honor that request by doing things like working with nursing home residents to set up feeders.
The foundation made a major change earlier this year when it moved from leased space in downtown Fargo to a building it purchased at 409 7th St. S., in Fargo, which began its existence years ago as a convenience store.
After moving in, the foundation reconfigured the interior and is now in the process of beautifying the exterior and improving the parking lot area to make it greener and more distinctive, said Greg Diehl, the agency’s development officer.
The interior changes include a large meeting room that the foundation makes available free of charge to other area nonprofits and organizations.
“Since we moved in, it (the meeting room) has been used more than 60 times, at least once a week if not more,” Diehl said.
In addition to what it can accomplish with its endowment funds and the agency’s new community room, the foundation has been working to be a catalyst for change, Beaton said, including efforts aimed at addressing the region’s severe worker shortage.
Beaton said that push focuses on things like seeking ways to create more affordable housing in the region, which he said would go a long way toward addressing the labor shortage and chronic homelessness.
Improvements at the foundation’s new location are expected to be completed in time for an open house planned for Tuesday. Events that day start with a ribbon cutting at 11 a.m., followed by an open house from 4 to 7 p.m. that will feature food, beverages and live music.