Donor-Advised Fund Impact Story: Helping Geographically Dispersed Family Foundations Give Locally

With three generations of family leadership spread across four states and two continents, the O.P. and W.E. Edwards Foundation faces a common challenge — keeping its far-flung board members engaged connected to its grant making. The foundation, which is based in rural Red Lodge, Montana, focuses its grant making on early-childhood issues, education, and Native American issues—and its board members pride themselves on having a personal understanding of the organizations and issues they fund.

But while Montana is its home and the center of its activities, the foundation has taken a unique step to ensure that its geographically dispersed board members have a close connection to its grant making, even if they live far away.

In addition to offering discretionary funds, the foundation works to support board members who want to create donor-advised funds at their local community foundations—a tactic that has helped the family partner with community foundations and connect the family’s priorities with the needs of their local communities.

“It allows for something that can be more self-directed and to have the flexibility of being able to give in a different geography than where our foundation is based,” says Amy Hyfield, the Foundation’s executive director.

In addition to providing board members with an opportunity to make a difference in their current home communities, the donor-advised funds strategy gives them the opportunity to give personally—and anonymously—to organizations they care about. The anonymity is important for some of the family members, who prefer to keep a low profile with their giving.

It also allows them to focus their giving on issues that are important to them personally. For example, one board member, who has homes in Vermont and New York and who has an interest in the arts and music, established donor-advised funds in each of those states to support arts education programs. Another board member has a donor-advised fund with the Montana Community Foundation to provide funding to Native American causes that fall outside of the Edwards Foundation’s core program areas.

But perhaps the biggest benefit is the relationships that are being built between the family foundation and community foundations. “It’s allowed us to really get to know each other and to work together on some collaborative grantmaking,” Hyfield says.

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