Grantmaking in Montana: Giving Trends and Key Funders to Watch

Missoula, Montana. Photo:  Jon Bilous/shutterstock

Missoula, Montana. Photo:  Jon Bilous/shutterstock

Montana. It's the land of big sky, the famous battle of Custer’s Last Stand, and some of the most epic natural landscapes in the world. There aren’t a ton of grantmaking foundations located here, but the ones that are have been giving big lately. In fact, among all the states in the Northwest, grantmaking in Montana is growing the fastest. This state is home to just over a million people, but charitable giving here rose 61 percent over a two-year period.

According to Philanthropy Northwest data, around 20 percent of Montana grants back education lately, representing almost one-fifth of total funding. One of the largest education grants ($7 million) came from the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation and went to the University of Montana Foundation in Missoula.

However, the topic of environment and animals is a close second issue area in terms of philanthropic dollars spent in Montana. Approximately 19 percent of total grantmaking supports this area lately, which is considerably more than the 7 percent funding environment and animals overall in the Northwest. One example grantee is the Big Blackfoot Chapter of Trout Unlimited, which received a $40,000 Montana Community Foundation grant for stream restoration.

Montana groups have also received four times the amount of funding for public affairs compared to the rest of the Northwest region. The same approximate amount of funding has backed public affairs, arts and culture, and sports and recreation.

Aside from the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation, which is a big funder to watch in Montana, we’re also keeping an eye on the Gilhousen Family Foundation and the Montana Community Foundation. The Washington Foundation supports education, health and human services, community service, and arts and culture. Meanwhile, Gilhousen sticks to the Bozeman area and supports education, community, culture and spiritual life. Unlike many community funders, the Montana Community Foundation doesn’t accept unsolicited grant applications, as it only provides funding through its 900+ charitable funds.

Other top funders in Montana that give within the state are the Bair Ranch Foundation, the Gianforte Family Charitable Trust and the Oro y Plata Foundation. Funders not based in Montana that give here include the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, the Schwab Charitable Fund, the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

To keep Montana funders connected to each other and the rest of the giving world, Philanthropy Northwest has hosted a quarterly Montana-Idaho-Wyoming Funders Teleconference for the past eight years. Also, community foundations in the state receive support from the Big Sky Institute, a group that works with funders and nonprofits to grow philanthropic resources and build community. The Montana Nonprofit Association is also a good resource for organizations in the area. A total of 138 Montana nonprofits participated in a “state of the sector” survey that was used to create the 2016 Northwest Nonprofit Capacity Report. You can download that report here.