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Headwaters Foundation On Its First Year of Grantmaking

Photo courtesy of the Headwaters Foundation Facebook page.
Community members in Butte meet with the Headwaters Foundation staff, August 2018.

A new nonprofit foundation in Montana is on track to give away $2.5 million by the end of 2018, its first year of grantmaking.

Brenda Solorzano is the CEO of the Headwaters Foundation in Missoula.

“When I first came to Headwaters, I consistently said that these resources were not mine. They were not the board’s. They were not Headwaters’. They were resources that belong to western Montana.” 

That’s because Headwaters is a conversion foundation. It was created three years ago when Community Medical Center, a non-profit Missoula hospital, was sold to a for-profit joint venture between Billings Clinic and Tennessee-based RegionalCare Hospital Partners.

In such sales, law requires the proceeds from the sale go into a health legacy foundation to benefit the public.

Now, money from the foundation is starting to spill into communities across western Montana, in places where Community Hospital patients typically come from.

Since July, the Headwaters Foundation has funded almost 100 grants. More than half of those were quick-turnaround mini grants of up to $5,000 each to health-related nonprofits in rural communities in western Montana.

Called “Go! Grants,” they were designed to speed up the funding process. It takes less than 30 minutes to apply, 24 hours to be approved, “and usually a check out within a month. That’s kind of unheard of in philanthropy,” Solorzano said.

Solorzano says Headwaters is committed to funding organizations that are trying to address issues like food security, homelessness, youth mentorship, and childhood development.

Recipients of the grants so far have included school districts, libraries, youth homes, health clinics and others.

“If you're doing the work that is mission aligned with what we're trying to achieve in headwaters, then we should be supporting you.” 

But Solorzano says these easy-to-access grants are just one small part of how Headwaters plans to use its endowment.

They’re also funding policy work, like a report on Medicaid, and will be spending $1.7 million this fall on an initiative to address early childhood issues.

The initiative will create a statewide resource center and fund four nonprofits in Butte, Kalispell, Helena and Missoula to act as community hubs in tackling issues from healthy pregnancy to getting kids school-ready.

The Headwaters Foundation is one of the largest nonprofit foundations in Montana history, with an endowment of $100 million.

Once they’re fully up and running, they’ll be required to distribute at least five percent of their endowment each year, meaning $5 million. But Solorzano says since Headwaters is still a startup, they can do what’s called step-up distribution.

“So rather than starting right at five out of the gate, you can start lower and over the course of five years, eventually get to five.”

This year, she says, they decided to start at $2.5 million, and will add another million each year.

“Our average annual giving eventually will be somewhere between five and six million dollars a year, and that will stay constant for perpetuity,” Solorzano said.

And that could mean more Go! Grants, bigger initiatives, and more opportunities for nonprofits to collaborate with Headwaters down the line.

Maxine is the All Things Considered host and reporter for MTPR. She got her start at MTPR as a Montana News intern. She has also worked at KUNC in Northern Colorado and for Pacific Standard magazine as an editorial fellow covering wildfire and the environment.
Maxine graduated from the University of Montana with a master's degree in natural resource journalism and has a degree in creative writing from Vassar College. When she’s not behind the microphone you can find Maxine skiing, hiking with her not-so-well-behaved dogs, or lost in a book.
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