Big dreams realized in Nebraska’s hometowns

By Jeff Yost
President & CEO
Nebraska Community Foundation
Where are you from? That’s a question that pops up in many casual conversations among those of us who call Lincoln or Omaha home today, but still have fond memories of and close ties to much smaller hometowns all across the state of Nebraska.I’m from Red Cloud. Like so many others, after graduating from UNL I stayed in Lincoln. I eventually went to work in Governor Ben Nelson’s office, and in 1998 joined the Nebraska Community Foundation as its first full-time employee.

Next week Nebraska Community Foundation will officially celebrate its 20th Anniversary at our annual banquet on November 6. We deeply appreciate the ongoing support HBE Becker Meyer Love provides by helping to sponsor this annual event.

When Nebraska Community Foundation was founded 20 years ago, visionary leaders set their sights on transforming our hometowns into stronger, more progressive and sustainable communities.They rejected the negative narrative of scarcity and competition, and instead focused on unleashing the abundant assets that exist in our communities.

This positive approach worked because people love their hometowns, even if they no longer live there. Nebraska Community Foundation enables people to show their love by giving them a way to give back. Today more than 250 hometowns are connected through a growing network of ambitious people using philanthropy as a tool for stronger, more progressive hometowns. Perhaps your hometown is one of them!

Nebraska Community Foundation is coming of age. With nearly $100 million in assets, most of which is permanently endowed, the Foundation and its 223 affiliated funds are banking on the future of Nebraska’s hometowns. More than $222 million has been reinvested in critical infrastructure, health care, education and a quality of life that invites young families to return to or put down their roots in our rural communities, which are essential to the overall success of our state.

Nebraska Community Foundation works through volunteers of affiliated funds in towns as small as Burr (pop. 66) and as large as Norfolk. Donors in Lincoln and Omaha use the Foundation as a conduit for giving back to their hometowns and favorite charities all across the state.

Because Nebraska Community Foundation has the capacity to handle significant gifts of land, stocks and real estate, the wealth resulting from a lifetime of work can stay in the community where it was built.

For example, a bachelor farmer named Rudy Elis established a $2.3 million affiliated fund to help the Norfolk and O’Neill areas prosper. Today, Rudy’s donor-advised fund has a balance of $4.3 million. Rudy’s dream was to help businesses grow and to attract new families to the area. His friend, Jan Krotter Chvala of O’Neill, said he didn’t believe in handouts. “He wanted to see people helping themselves.”

Grants from his endowment are doing just that. For example, Holt County Economic Development in O’Neill gets support from the Elis Fund. Since 2007, 40 new businesses have been created in Holt County, 33 have expanded and 19 have successfully transitioned to new owners, resulting in 421 new or retained jobs. More than 260 families and/or individuals have moved to the county – 45 in the last year alone.

Unlike most community foundations, Nebraska Community Foundation itself does not make grants. Grantmaking decisions are made by the local leaders of NCF’s affiliated funds across the state. These include community-based, organizational, donor-advised and designated funds. NCF is the umbrella organization that enables our affiliated funds to receive tax-deductible contributions.

We work with 1,800 volunteers, teaching local leaders how to raise their own funds and make their own grants based on the most important local development priorities. It may be child care, entrepreneurship training, small-business assistance, medical services, recreation – or whatever opportunity will strengthen their hometown.

We provide training for volunteers, strategy development and gift planning assistance. Our professional staff handles the financial management, receipting, disbursements, tax compliance – all the responsibilities that could overwhelm volunteer leaders of the small communities and organizations we serve.

Helping leaders transform their hometowns into stronger, more progressive and sustainable communities through philanthropy is a unique approach compared to traditional community development. In 2002, Nebraska Community Foundation completed the nation’s first statewide county-by-county analysis of how intergenerational transfer of wealth can inspire endowment building, empower communities and transform Nebraska.

According to the 2011 update of this study, more than $600 billion will transfer from one generation to the next in Nebraska by 2060. In 51 Nebraska counties, the peak time for wealth transfer is within the next five years. This represents generations of Nebraskans who have worked hard and saved money for the future. Most of these assets will go to heirs, many of whom no longer live in their hometown. Once this wealth leaves our communities, the opportunity for giving back becomes more unlikely.

Our 20th Anniversary is an important time to create awareness of the abundance that exists in Nebraska communities and the power it can have when strategically reinvested. If we wait five more years until our silver anniversary to reach out to more people, millions of dollars in bequests to our hometowns may leave our state.

When communities are empowered to embrace the possibilities of their dreams, through an energized commitment for the future, great things are achieved. Because of this, Nebraska Community Foundation was recently selected as the 2014 Outstanding Foundation by the Association of Fundraising Professionals Nebraska Chapter. This award is presented to the foundation that has demonstrated outstanding civic and charitable responsibility and has encouraged and motivated others to take leadership in philanthropy and community involvement.

Through a growing network of ambitious people, Nebraska Community Foundation uses shared ideas, resources and experiences to help local leaders unleash the abundant assets and talents within their own place. For more information, visit or call (402) 323-7330.




  • Do you have clients who care deeply about their local community?
  • Do they give to more than one charitable cause?
  • Are they interested in creating a personal or family legacy in their community?
  • Would they like to stay personally involved in the use of their gift dollars?
  • Do they want to receive maximum tax benefit for their charitable contributions under federal law?
  • Do they place a priority on sound financial management of their contributions?
  • Are they considering the creation of a private foundation, but concerned about cost and administrative complexity?

If you answered yes to any of these
questions, your clients would benefit from knowing more about the Nebraska Community Foundation. Contact Jim Gustafson, NCF Gift Planning Director, via e-mail or at  (402) 323-7341or to learn how we can help.


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