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What is 'Give Big' And Where Do Southwest Montanans Fit In?

Communities are built on giving back and every citizen matters. A 24-hour blitz to benefit every corner of the non-profit community in Greater Bozeman

Bozeman and the Gallatin Valley emanates a strong sense of place. Every citizen plays a role in keeping it special.
Bozeman and the Gallatin Valley emanates a strong sense of place. Every citizen plays a role in keeping it special.
Bridget Pitman Wilkinson is a dynamo. She and her colleagues are trying to ignite a community groundswell in Bozeman, Montana built around the age-old ethos of to whom much is given much is expected. 

Bozeman is not only the largest city in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Because of its setting and natural amenities it offers, it is considered the bioregional capital. It also is one of the fastest growing in America.

Be they those of multi-generation families or newcomers, the Gallatin Valley has a passionate citizenry comprised of people who call it home.  Never before in Greater Bozeman's history have there been so many needs, so much as stake for local quality of life and so many opportunities to get involved.

Not unlike the Old Bill's Fun Run initiative in Jackson Hole, which has become a national model for engaged charitable giving and an engine for the Community Foundation of Jackson Hole, Wilkinson and colleagues want to bring the same spirit of goodwill in Bozeman to the next level. 

Through "Give Big," the Bozeman Area Community Foundation hopes to raise $1 million during an event that runs May 3-4, with proceeds distributed to nearly 200 qualifying non profit entities.

Full disclosure: Mountain Journal  is one of the participating non-profits in the mix. Launched in 2017, MoJo is the only public-interest, reader-supported journalistic watchdog that focuses on the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and the intersection between humanity and nature.  Please support us like you would public radio or television.

But whether it is MoJo celebrating the region and holding public officials to account, or organizations that protect open space and build trails, wildlife conservation and research, community groups that help ensure everyone has a place, those that promote literacy, the library, education for kids, look after seniors, provide shelter for pets or nuture our vibrant arts scene in all its forms, Give Big is a catalyst for uniting people around passions and values.

Not long ago, Mountain Journal completed an interview with Bridget Pitman Wilkinson, executive director of the Bozeman Area Community Foundation. For more information on Give Big, click here.

MOUNTAIN JOURNAL:  What was the origin of Give Big and how has it evolved? 

BRIDGET PITMAN WILKINSON: Give Big was launched by the Bozeman Area Community Foundation in the Spring of 2015. I was recently hired as the first executive director of the Community Foundation in 2013. When I first started in this role, I did extensive research to understand how community foundations were demonstrating community leadership and inspiring a culture of giving in their communities. From that research, Give Big was born. The first year, my goal was to raise $100,000 for 100 nonprofits in Gallatin County in just 24-hours. We hit that goal at noon that day. 

It's hard not to be inspired by the infectious enthusiasm of Bridget Wilkinson. For as much as people love living in Bozeman and the Gallatin Valley, she believes there's an equally impressive generosity of spirit.
It's hard not to be inspired by the infectious enthusiasm of Bridget Wilkinson. For as much as people love living in Bozeman and the Gallatin Valley, she believes there's an equally impressive generosity of spirit.
Since that time, Give Big has raised over $1.3 million for 168 nonprofits throughout Gallatin County in three short years. Each year, our initiative continues to grow and provide important unrestricted resources for local nonprofits. We believe that providing a time each year for people to support their favorite cause- or to find a new one that they didn't know existed- strengthens the sector as whole.

While it's fun to promote the dollars raised during Give Big, we deeply believe that one of the greatest benefits of this program is also the education we provide nonprofits who participate in Give Big. Leading up to the giving day, we host a series of Give Big Bootcamp classes that engages nonprofits in learning around topics like donor stewardship, leveraging social media tools and more!

MOJO: Would be grateful for some stats—how many groups, range of groups, kind of work they are doing?

WILKINSON: Nonprofits that participate in Give Big range from large nonprofits with budgets over $1 million to the small, board-led groups that are just getting off the ground. Donors can support organizations that range from environment to arts, music to basic need resources, and everything in between! The beauty of Give Big lies in the diversity of organizations that collaborate on this day to inspire giving!

Nonprofits participating in Give Big are located throughout the Gallatin County from Belgrade to Bozeman, Big Sky to Three Forks. 

MOJO: Your feeling about level of generosity and support for philanthropic causes in Gallatin Valley/Bozeman/Southwest Montana? 

WILKINSON: Community members give for so many reasons and when someone's passion meets a community need, magic happens. Every day, I see that magic happen when we support donors in their giving to causes that deeply and authentically resonate with them. When I first moved to the Gallatin Valley, I quickly learned that the community expectation was that you invested in this community through your time, resources and gifts. I'm proud to serve a community that values giving and engaging in community needs day in and day out.

MOJO: What parallels are there, if any, to Old Bills in Jackson?

WILKINSON:  Both Give Big and Old Bills highlights the power of community members coming together to celebrate and support local nonprofit organizations. Think of it: some 72.5% of donors who participated in last year's Give Big initiative donated to a cause they have never supported in the past. People often think that philanthropy is for the Bill Gates and Warren Buffets of the world.  The truth is, everyone can be a philanthropist. No gift is too small. And, the beauty of Give Big is that together, our gifts will combine for a big impact. The more people participate, the more energy – and more collective impact – we will create! Both initiatives celebrate this mission.

MOJO: What are your goals?

WILKINSON: On May 3rd and 4th from 6pm-6pm, The Bozeman Area Community Foundation will host the fourth annual Give Big Gallatin Valley initiative, a 24-hour celebration of giving to local nonprofits in Gallatin County. This year, the Bozeman Area Community Foundation’s goal is to inspire 4,000 donors to raise $1 million  in 24-hours for 192 nonprofits from communities throughout Gallatin County. 

MOJO: Riff a little on how you want to reach people from all levels in the community, letting them know they too can make meaningful contributions.

WILKINSON: Anyone can be a philanthropist on Give Big! With a minimum gift of $10, anyone can be a philanthropist for a cause they care about most. Give Big is about feeling that giving spirit and learning that while our $10 alone might not make a big difference, our gifts together can make a big impact.
"The truth is, everyone can be a philanthropist. No gift is too small. And, the beauty of Give Big is that together, our gifts will combine for a big impact."                        —Bridget Wilkinson 
MOJO: Most importantly, what are some of the things you absolutely, positively want to mention?

WILKINSON: Give Big is a celebration of a nonprofit sector in our county that works tirelessly to support what we love most in our community.  Nonprofit organizations play a vital role in building healthy communities by providing critical services that often fill the gaps where the business and government sectors cannot serve. It's up to all of us to ensure that this sector is supported and thriving!

MOJO: In these challenging times, you are incredibly bullish on your fellow citizens.

WILKINSON: When asked about how GBGV is impacting local nonprofits, Elizabeth Porth, Communications Manager for the Gallatin Valley Land Trust said, “Give Big Gallatin Valley has been about much more than donations. It has brought our nonprofit community together like nothing else I’ve seen."

We’re thinking about our community as a whole and how all of us, in our own ways, contribute to the quality of life here. It has given us a reason to tell success stories of our work, reach out to new and old donors alike, and spread our message on new platforms like social media. We’re so grateful that the Bozeman Area Community Foundation has launched this effort. It has given us a collective voice that is much louder and effective than our individual one. We, as a nonprofit community, with our donors by our side, can make a big impact on the place we call home.

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