The Community Foundation of the Ozarks is marking 50 years of place-based philanthropy, which has supported Springfield and south-central Missouri with nearly $600 million in grants, scholarships and distributions made possible by generous donors.
The CFO was founded on June 18, 1973, with $1,500 contributed by 15 local banks. Today, it holds assets of about $420 million for donors, regional affiliate foundations and nonprofit partners. Based in Springfield, the CFO also has offices in West Plains and Cape Girardeau to serve a region stretching from the Missouri River south to Arkansas and the Mississippi River west to the Oklahoma-Kansas border.
Since beginning in 1914 in Cleveland, the community foundation movement has grown to include about 900 across the United States alone as well as about 900 in other countries. In the United States, the CFO is the 69th largest, according to the most recent Columbus Survey by CF Insights. It also is the nation’s third busiest in terms of transactions, which numbered more than 28,000 based on the 2021 survey data. That speaks to the CFO’s region, which is generous, if not wealthy, and the CFO’s commitment to gifts and grants of all sizes, no matter how large or small.
The CFO will celebrate its 50th anniversary with donors, professional advisors and volunteer leaders at the Dickerson Park Zoo where the CFO’s first grant was made in 1975 for the petting zoo. The CFO and its affiliates also planted 50,000 daffodils that bloomed this spring across the region.
As the region’s largest public charitable foundation, the CFO offers a broad range of philanthropic leadership. To represent 50 years, these five examples illustrate how the CFO has carried out its mission of enhancing the quality of life for the region through resource development, grantmaking, collaboration and public leadership.
Developing Rural Philanthropy: In 1993, Nixa leaders approached the CFO to replicate its model using local volunteer leaders with CFO staff administrative support. The Nixa Community Foundation’s affiliate model has been replicated in 52 other cities, counties and regions. From this network, the Rural Schools Partnership was created in 2010 to strengthen schools as anchors of rural communities, including its nationally recognized Ozarks Teacher Corps scholarship program.
Building Nonprofit Capacity: Grantmaking and scholarships are two of the CFO’s highest-profile areas. About 90% of these resources stay in Missouri. Whether recommended by donor advisors or included in annual competitive cycles, grants are made to organizations holding nonprofit or similar IRS status. In 2010, the CFO started emphasizing nonprofit partnerships through investment and administrative services, education and technical support. Strong nonprofits use grant dollars most effectively.
Responding to Emergency Needs: Since helping in Stockton after the May 2003 tornado, the CFO has responded to natural disasters in Joplin, Branson and south-central Missouri with technical assistance and grants to nonprofits that directly serve those affected. Emergency grantmaking has supported the region through the Great Recession, the COVID-19 pandemic and specific needs such as cold-weather crisis shelters.
Expanding Resources: A pillar of the CFO’s mission is collaboration, a trait long considered a regional strength. Collaboration reduces duplication of effort and builds consensus on shared priorities. In addition to convening local funders around key issues, the CFO also expands regional resources by serving as the “boots on the ground” for state and national funders.
Investing for Impact: A below-market mission-related loan program creates a “double-bottom line” by providing gap financing for projects such as a storm shelter, hospital equipment and a school HVAC system. The CFO seeds efforts like Restore SGF to increase home ownership in Springfield and is an original funding partner of the Community Focus Report for Springfield & Greene County.
“With more than a half-billion dollars out the door in a half century and assets exceeding $400 million today, it’s exciting to think about what the next 50 years will bring in our continued commitment to place-based philanthropy,” CFO President Brian Fogle says.