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'Very giving community': Columbus Area Future Fund reaches $500k goal
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'Very giving community': Columbus Area Future Fund reaches $500k goal

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The Columbus Area Future Fund (CAFF) recently announced that it has reached its three-year-long fundraising goal of $500,000. 

The CAFF is one of five affiliated funds that were selected for a $250,000 challenge through the Building Community Capacity in Rural Nebraska initiative by the Sherwood Foundation, which promotes equity through social justice initiatives to enhance Nebraska quality of life. The challenge was to raise $500,000 for the CAFF’s unrestricted endowment. As part of it, every $2 in unrestricted contributions received by Dec. 31, 2020, earned an additional $1 (up to a maximum grant of $250,000).

“Because of this campaign, the endowment fund has grown to over $1 million,” CAFF Director Deb Loeske said. “That gives the Columbus Area Future Fund Advisory Committee $50,000 more a year to grant back out into the community.”

A multiple year-long process, organizers have been fundraising for the past three years to reach their $500,000 goal. But the appearance of the COVID-19 pandemic presented challenges, CAFF said.

“With the COVID pandemic, obviously it created a challenge just because it’s not as easy to walk up to somebody’s door … and see if they have some time to sit down and talk about the Future Fund,” CAFF Advisory Committee Treasurer Adam Urkoski said. “We did a lot more visits by phone. We just adapted to the pandemic. That was really the only choice we had.”

Much of the fundraising was completed in the latter half of 2020, Loseke noted, with committee members unable to hold fundraising events or large activities.

“It sure slowed us up,” CAFF Campaign Co-Chairman Rick Chochon said of COVID. “With restrictions we had, it definitely slowed (fundraising).”

Volunteers worked to the last hours of Dec. 31, CAFF Campaign Co-Chairman K.C. Belitz wrote in a Jan. 19 Telegram column, to finally reach the nonprofit’s goal.

“Columbus has proven, once again, that we are a community that gives back, that focuses on the greater good, that dreams of a better tomorrow for everyone who lives here,” said Belitz, who is also the chief operating officer with the Nebraska Community Foundation, in a provided statement.

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Interest gained on the unrestricted endowment can be used to give grants to projects that will benefit the Columbus community. Having unrestricted funds means that Future Fund will be able to grant money for what is most needed in the community, Urkoski added.

“The idea is, 20 years from now we don’t know what’s going to be at the top of the priority list for Columbus,” he said. “But we have a more broad and more open – unrestricted is the term we use a lot – endowment; we can use the funds for whatever we’re going to need 20 years from now.”

The grant process includes an application review by two CAFF committees, Loseke said.

“We have a grant application that people can complete and then that goes to … the grant committee. The grant committee reviews it and then it goes to the advisory committee for final approval or denial,” Loseke said.

According to CAFF’s website, grant approval is guided by four pillars: building local leadership, expanding community philanthropy, energizing entrepreneurship and engaging youth and young people.

“We’re always looking for projects … we haven’t planned anything yet in the future so that’s just something the committee will start exploring,” Loseke said.

“I hope it just keeps moving forward. There are some great people on that advisory committee.”

Urkoski added the Future Fund will continue fundraising and, while seeking donations, speak to those in the community about what is needed and/or an area needing improvement.

Being able to reach the $500,000 goal, even in the middle of a global pandemic, shows Columbus’ strength, he said.

“It just shows that the community of Columbus is a very giving community and has the community itself on its mind and is always willing to do what it takes to come through and make it such a good place to raise our families,” Urkoski said.

Hannah Schrodt is the news editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach her via email at hannah.schrodt@lee.net.

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