photo by Kristine Jacobson

Phelps County Community Foundation

PCCF by the Numbers:

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Community foundation spurs county’s growth

In Holdrege, school children perform on the stage of the 818-seat Tassel Performing Arts Center. On that same stage, audiences enjoy dance recitals and music acts from around the world.

Children stay safe after school, and adults learn to live healthier at the busy YMCA of the Prairie. Nursing home residents can check out a book in a new library at the Holdrege Memorial Homes, and visitors and locals can relive the pioneer days or explore their ancestry at the Nebraska Prairie Museum.

Phelps County Community Foundation
Holdrege Splash Pad, photo by Kristine Jacobson

In Loomis and Holdrege, children spend summer days galloping in the sun and water at new community splash pads.

In Atlanta, residents enjoy a comfortable and updated community building next to a safe playground.

In Bertrand, school students learn better with a renovated library and digital media enhancements.
In Funk, an empty school building has become a thriving community center.

All of these Phelps County treasures might look different or may not even exist today if it weren’t for the Phelps County Community Foundation and the generosity of local donors.

The foundation, the third oldest and fourth largest community foundation in Nebraska, has provided seed money and a boost of credibility to nearly every major project in the county for the past 40 years.

“You have that seed money for all of those things for every community in Phelps County,” said Vickie Klein, the foundation’s executive director for the past 12 years. “That’s where you build communities, when you do things that everybody can have, that’s a benefit to them.”

Phelps County Community Foundation
Nebraska Prairie Museum, photo by Dan Christensen

The Phelps County Community Foundation was established in 1976 from the estate of Holdrege resident Irene Anderson. With aggressive and creative volunteer board members, the foundation grew from assets of $300,000 to almost $1 million in the first five years, Klein said.

The foundation now has assets of $17.2 million. It gives out more than $200,000 in grants annually, and in 2015, 112 students received scholarships through the foundation totaling more than $250,000.

The foundation is governed by a volunteer board of directors and employs four full-time staff.

Secret to foundation’s success

According to Klein and current PCCF board president Chris Erickson, the secret to the foundation’s success is a history of creative and forward-thinking board members and staff, creating a culture of philanthropy and generous rural Nebraska donors.

Klein said when the foundation began in 1976, it was the volunteer board members who made it successful. With no staff and a little seed money, the board members invested wisely and started the foundation on the right path to success.

Phelps County Community Foundation
The Tassel, photo by Dan Christensen

“The board consistently, from the very beginning, has been creative and looked toward what can we do next,” Klein said.

In 1992, the board decided to purchase about 50 acres of farm ground in northwest Holdrege from the Evelyn T. Hammond estate. The landowner wanted the ground to be passed on by the foundation to help non-profits and community organizations.

Since that time, more than $20 million in projects that benefit Phelps County and provide area jobs have sprung up on that ground: the Educational Service Unit 11 headquarters, a new Family Medical Specialties office building, the YMCA of the Prairie and a new Holdrege Elementary school. A future sports complex may be located on the last acres of that land.

“That was very forward thinking to purchase this land,” Klein said, pointing out that the foundation didn’t receive profits from the land, but the purchase helped meet its mission of helping non-profits.

The Tassel Performing Arts Center constructed in Holdrege in 1999 was also an initiative of the foundation that required a lot of leg work and fundraising by board members and community volunteers.

“Our board plays a key role in the operations of our foundation,” Klein said. “When you join the board, you don’t realize the depth of scope of what the foundation does. The board members have jobs. They have responsibilities.”

Relationships create solid foundation

Klein credits one of the foundation’s major estate gifts to a relationship between a board member and a donor.

Erickson, who has served on the board for five years, said the board work has been rewarding for him.
“It makes you feel good to help this organization and be a part of something that can affect change,” he said.

Erickson complimented Vickie and her staff on the work they do as well.

“Some of the big growth has taken place since Vickie has worked at the foundation,” Erickson said. “She has done a good job of taking the mission of the foundation and making it grow.”

Klein said her job is made easier by her board members and the luxury of endowed operating funds.

“We are in an enviable position because boards way before us built an endowment so we don’t have to raise our operating every year,” Klein said.

Cultivating a culture of giving

“We live in a community and county of people with strong core values who know it’s important to give back,” Erickson said.

But that didn’t happen overnight. Giving is a learned behavior, he said.

“Sometimes as people start to give, they see other people start to give, and the momentum starts to build and grow,” Erickson said.

Phelps County Community Foundation Giving groups like the Future Fund and the Women’s Giving Circle allow donors to contribute a small amount of money each month or year and pool it with others in the group

The Future Fund is a social and philanthropic group of donors mainly 45 and younger who pool their donations to give grants to projects that benefit the future of the county and its residents. Klein said the group has already awarded more than $70,000 in grants in 9 years.

The PCCF also encourages giving with a one-day giving event, which is a common practice among community foundations. The event is organized by the foundation to benefit the county’s non-profit organizations. Donations are boosted by matching funds from the foundation, giving donors an extra incentive to give to their favorite charities on that day.

The foundation’s fourth Give2Grow event will be Thursday, Nov. 19. Last year’s event raised more than $730,000 for 56 area non-profit organizations or projects.

Klein said she has seen firsthand how that event encourages giving. She recalls one donor last year who said, “I don’t ever give to anything, and I felt like I missed out last year.” That donor then wrote a check for $125, giving $25 each to six charities.

Donors understand importance of giving

Klein said that community foundation staff from larger towns are always asking how Phelps County (with a population of approximately 9,200) raises so much in one day.

“My only answer to them is I can just be proud of our donors in Phelps County for understanding how important this is,” she said. “I don’t think we did anything extraordinary to make people want to give, I think they just understood the importance of giving.”

Klein said that the PCCF is the only Nebraska foundation that consistently ranks among the top 100 in per capita giving as ranked by the Community Foundation Insights organization. Last year, Klein said the foundation ranked 16th in the nation in per capita giving with the average gift being $124 per person.

“When you talk about that $124 per capita giving, that’s a real testament to the culture of philanthropy we have here and the investment people are willing to make through the foundation,” Erickson said.

For more information on the Phelps County Community Foundation, visit the web site at  The foundation is located at 504 4th Ave., Holdrege, NE, 308-995-6847.

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Kristine Jacobson

Kristine Jacobson is a writer, mom of three, farmer’s wife and unlikely promoter of rural Nebraska. In high school, she was the girl who couldn’t wait to move to the big city and escape her small hometown in rural Nebraska. She pursued her dream and attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where she earned a degree in journalism. After college, she married her high school sweetheart and a few years later found herself back in her small rural hometown. She now embraces the simplicity of life without crowds and traffic. She’s found great friends and lots of opportunities to make an impact in her small town. When she’s not writing or working for clients in her business (KRJPR), she can be seen on a bleacher somewhere watching her children participate in sports, or she can be found reading a book, biking, walking, camping or enjoying nature, scrapbooking or planning a trip somewhere. Her daughter calls her a “pictionarian,” or one who likes to take pictures, and “trippish,” meaning she likes to travel.

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