In three years time, the Nebraska City Community Foundation Fund Advisory Committee was challenged to raise $500,000 to received an additional $250,000 from The Sherwood Foundation for its unrestricted endowment.

On Feb. 18, NCCFF announced that not only had it met its $500,000 goal, but surpassed it by raising $519,000.

The Sherwood Foundation Director of Rural Community Partnerships Matt Rezac of Omaha commended NCCFF’s work and effort during the challenge period and hailed the organization as a leader for other Nebraska communities also participating in Sherwood’s challenge campaign. Rezac said raising that amount of money in a short time is not only impressive, but will continue serving future generations in the community and put Nebraska City on the map as a trailblazer in investing in the people of its town.

“The idea of thinking generations ahead as an act of community leadership is really unique and really exemplary and it’s a gift that you not only have given to one another in the community, but to those of us who live outside of this community you’ve really modeled something special and something that I personally think we need to see more of,” he said. “This was not just an accomplishment in terms of raising dollars … but there is something much different going on about building a community and a group of people who are committed to one another not only for today, but for the people who will live here and grow up here and make this place, and develop into the future.”

NCCFF Fund Advisory Commitee Chairman Erv Friesen said rather than focusing on “mortar and bricks” projects the organization’s mission is investing in the community’s people. For example, the organization’s unrestricted endowment may not be able to assist with the construction of the new Nebraska City Aquatic Center currently being built, but the money could be used to help with lifeguard training or swimming lessons.

“That’s just one example that I’ve used in how investing in people works alongside our idea,” he said during a celebration event at the Missouri River Basin-Lewis & Clark Center Feb. 18.

NCCFF Fund Advisory Committee member and NCF Board member Paul Madison of Nebraska City said its unknown at this time what the money could be used for in the community, but said the organization will be able to give about $35,000 annually in grants. He added the organization’s Youth Advisory Committee will also be able to use 20 percent of that amount to disburse to other local projects at their discretion.

“It’s going to be an endowment and it’s an unrestricted endowment because we don’t know what we’re going to need 20 years from now. So we don’t want to restrict what the money could be used for,” Madison said. “It can be spent in Nebraska City, but we don’t know what kind of opportunities we will have down the road.”

The celebration was hosted by the local organization to thank the donors, which Friesen said 100 percent of the people who had originally pledged to donate did.

Madison said NCCFF achieving their campaign goal is a huge asset for the community’s future.

“It’s a celebration of completing this grant and just thanking these people. We can’t thank them enough. This gift that they give will be giving forever,” Madison said. “The principal of this endowment doesn’t just go away. It keep going year after year and we just spend part of the earnings off of this.”

Friesen said during the fall 2011, NCCFF was approached by Nebraska Community Foundation based out of Lincoln to participate in The Sherwood Foundation’s challenge grant to increase its unrestricted endowment. Nine NCCFF Fund Advisory Committee members attended between 10 to 15 NCF and Sherwood Foundation training sessions in a three-year time period with three other Nebraska communities - Shickley, Norfolk and McCook - on how to grow its unrestricted endowment fund.

“Without the training that they gave us I don’t think that we would’ve succeeded,” he said. “So there’s a big thank-you to the Nebraska Community Foundation and The Sherwood Foundation.”

Friesen said prior to January 2012, NCCFF’s unrestricted endowment had totaled $72,000. By December 2015, the endowment had reached $874,117, which allowed for the organization to assist with more grant funding opportunities for the community.

“Now in this economy in this day and age, you don’t do much granting with the interest off of $72,000 … maybe $2,000 to $3,000 a year is all that may be granted. On Dec. 31, 2015, we now had at that time $874,117 in that same fund,” Friesen said. “So we are thinking that we’re going to be able to grant between $35,000 and $40,000 a year back to the community as opposed to $2,000 or $3,000, but that will all depend on the market.”

He added that NCCFF Fund Advisory Committee members also pledged and donated money for the unrestricted endowment annually to demonstrate to the community that they weren’t willing to ask for donations without their commitment as well.

Shickley, Norfolk and McCook were also awarded $250,000 each by The Sherwood Foundation for reaching the $500,000 fundraising goal. The program was so successful that four other Nebraska communities have just completed round two, round three has begun with four additional communities and round four will then begin.

NCF Director of Community Development Philanthropy Greta Leach said Nebraska City’s success and knowledge about the campaign is rippling across the state.

“What you have all done has changed your community and it has changed it today and it has changed it forever. Nebraska City if forever different because of your hard work and your campaign. You have the grants that you’re giving today, but 50 years from now there will be other leaders with other opportunities and other issues and they will have this resource because of what you have done,” Leach said. “Nebraska City is one of the examples that we lift up as a top-notch partner to NCF and as a community that’s doing amazing things. Your investment-in-people mission is so innovative and so dynamic and that is something that you are known across the state for.”

Rezac commended NCCFF for its accomplishment and compared the members’ determination to that of a rock climber hanging from a cliff without being attached to a rope.

“Raising over $750,000 for your unrestricted endowment in the last three or four years is a huge accomplishment and something that takes a lot of pluck and a lot of dedication and a lot of hard work,” he said. “I have the lucky job of being able to work with communities like that all around the state where there’s that type of commitment unlikely things happen; uncommon things happen; exceptional things happen.”

Rezac said The Sherwood Foundation has mostly focused on issues like poverty alleviation and public and early childhood education in the Omaha area. About five years ago, however, the private foundation branched out to work with communities across the state with Nebraska City being one of the first four communities being involved in the foundation’s pilot program. He added that The Sherwood Foundation partners with communities to determine how the foundation’s investments can help with local priorities and projects.

He said the Latin origin of the word “commitment” is “bringing together” or “to unify” and NCCFF is a shining example of taking the “comm” from “commitment” and the “unity” to form the word “community”.

Before Tammy Partsch took to the podium to be the hostess “Alexa Trebek” for the “Jeopardy” Nebraska City trivia game, Friesen said the next goal is to increase the foundation’s number of annual donors, which it currently has between 45 to 50 donors. For instance, he said Shickley, a town with a population of 400 people, currently has 250 annual donors for its organization. Nebraska City’s population is about 7,255 people.

Friesen added that NCCFF is in the process of challenging Leadership Nebraska City to raise a certain amount of money in order to receive a NCCFF grant as well.

For more information about NCCFF, go to www.nebraskacitycommunityfoundation.org or www.facebook.com/NCCFF.