First Interstate BancSystem Foundation

OVERVIEW: This Billings, Montana-based corporate funder supports community development and leadership through grantmaking in Montana, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Wyoming, and South Dakota.

FUNDING AREAS: Community development, leadership

IP TAKE: This bank funder gives out many grants each year, and a majority stay within Montana. Affordable housing has been a big interest lately.

PROFILE: The First Interstate BancSystem Foundation (FIBF) is a corporate funder based in Billings, Montana. First Interstate Bank is a $12 billion community bank with more than 120 offices in Montana, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Wyoming, and South Dakota. The bank was established in 1968, and over a 25-year period invested $20 million in the communities it serves.

This foundation's two main grantmaking areas are community development and leadership. Community development grants go to nonprofits that serve low and mid-income people in the bank’s operating territory. This focus here is affordable housing, economic development, and various services that help this demographic. Leadership grant awards are recommended by bank branch leadership to address needs in their home communities. Nonprofits’ organizational background, leadership strength, and financial stability all come into play with these grants.

Approximately 46 percent of foundation grants have gone towards housing, economic development, youth, and leadership. About 22 percent of grants have gone to education and library programs, 20 percent to emergency needs like shelters and hospitals, and 10 percent to arts and culture groups.

Unsolicited grant applications sent to this foundation's main mailing address are forwarded to the relevant bank branches. Only grants recommended by BancSystem branches are funded. The application guidelines are pretty standard and advise that groups are less likely to receive funding if they are politically or religiously affiliated for the purpose of influencing legislation or benefiting one religious group.

The first step in the application process is to send a letter of inquiry to the bank branch nearest you. If interested, the bank branch will invite you to send in a grant application. The grant application can be accessed online. Upon review, you’ll receive an award or decline letter from FIBF.

In a recent year, the foundation awarded grants to the Neighborworks Montana, American Cancer Society Missoula, YMCA of Helena, and Big Brothers and Sisters of Livingston. Grants have regularly gone to local community foundations, such as the Helena Area Community Foundation and the Bozeman Area Community Foundation. Most grants are between $500 and $20,000, and many are given out each year. Grants $30,000 or higher require prior approval by the foundation board. A list of past grants awarded by year, dating back to 2002, can be found here.

In a recent year, total giving exceeded $2.8 million. Of this amount, over $973,000 came in the form of foundation grants to nonprofits, $1.3 million was donated by branch fundraising and charitable contributions, over $446,000 was part of an employee gift match program, and over $100,000 was part of an employee volunteer match program.

General questions can be directed to the foundation at 406-255-5393. The foundation’s mailing address is P.O. Box 7113, Billings, Montana 59103-7113. There are five members on the foundation’s board of directors.

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