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Nonprofits dream up uses for $4M in endowment

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A quartet of Springfield nonprofits are in the enviable position of determining how best to utilize newly funded endowments totaling $4 million.

An anonymous donation to Community Foundation of the Ozarks Inc announced last month will benefit The James River Basin Partnership, Ozark Greenways Inc., TrailSpring Inc. and Watershed Committee of the Ozarks. All four agencies are environmentally focused, ranging from outdoor recreation to preserving land and water resources in the Ozarks. The endowments will provide annual income for each nonprofit while maintaining and increasing the principal amount in perpetuity, according to CFO.

TrailSpring received the largest amount at $1.6 million. Ozark Greenways and Watershed Committee of the Ozarks were given roughly $1 million apiece, and $500,000 went to James River Basin Partnership, nonprofit officials say.

A specific amount of funding will be available annually to each recipient based on the spending policy approved by the CFO Board of Directors, which has been 4% in recent years, according to CFO spokesperson Aaron Scott. That equates to $40,000 for a $1 million endowment.

While the nonprofits learned about the incoming funds a few weeks before the April 22 public announcement, the surprise of the donation hasn’t worn off, said Mary Kromrey, executive director of Ozark Greenways, which manages over 140 miles of multiuse trails in the area.

“When you work in a nonprofit, it’s a dream to have an endowment fund with funds in it,” she said, noting the agency’s 2021 budget is $350,000. “To have that realized for each of our respective organizations – speaking for Ozark Greenways, it’s tremendous.”

Vote of confidence
Brent Stock, who became James River Basin Partnership’s executive director in late 2019, said the funding fell into the nonprofit’s lap. The donation is more than double its $240,000 operating budget, which funds two full-time employees, one part-time administrative assistant and two contract workers.

“This is one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities,” he said. “Obviously, we’re a small nonprofit and will take any support we can get. Every dollar really matters for us.”

The partnership, founded in 1997, is responsible for leading water quality protection and advocacy efforts for the James River watershed, an area in southwest Missouri comprising nearly 1 million acres of land, according to its website.

“Adding this is huge and will allow us to potentially support a portion of a full-time position,” Stock said of the new funds, noting designated uses aren’t finalized.

Officials with the other three nonprofits also said fund utilization is currently under consideration.

Jessica Pearson, executive director of TrailSpring, said the 501(c)(3) agency founded by Matt O’Reilly is volunteer driven and has had no full-time employees since its 2012 inception. Pearson is one of TrailSpring’s two contracted workers. She declined to disclose its current budget. It was $239,000 in 2018, according to the organization’s latest Form 990 on file with the IRS.

Pearson said she was elated about the donation for TrailSpring, whose mission is to improve the health and activity level of the Springfield area with multiuse trails. It focuses on mountain bike trails, which also are utilized by runners, hikers and birdwatchers. One of its past projects is Two Rivers Bike Park, a 15-mile mountain biking complex in Highlandville.

It currently is working on Dirt 66, a $1.8 million, 33-mile multiuse trail system in north Springfield surrounding Fellows Lake. Pearson said the project, which started in fall 2020, is expected to take around two years to complete.

“It’s a tremendous vote of confidence that the donor recognized the value of our organization to our community,” she said.

Available funding
CFO officials said in a news release the donor’s interest in conservation, the outdoors and the environment was a reason the four organizations were selected for the endowments. All four are among CFO’s more than 600 nonprofit partners across the region.

The nonprofits have the option to use the funding or continue to save it, said Mike Kromrey, executive director of Watershed Committee of the Ozarks. He said the compounding interest of the endowment will allow the annual amount available to the nonprofits to increase.

“It’s like a game-changing level of a gift,” he said. “Now that we have access to capital and interest money coming in, it’s really reshaping how we’re thinking about our mission and what we can do.”

Watershed Committee of the Ozarks has a seven-person staff and annual budget of roughly $700,000, he said. Its mission is to sustain and improve the water resources of Springfield and Greene County through education and effective management of the region’s watersheds, according to its website.

Stock said instant access to a portion of the money could help fund a project or capital campaign.

“But the best investment we can make as a nonprofit is to contribute to that endowment,” he said.

Mary Kromrey said the funds for the three-employee Ozark Greenways could allow it to contract strategically with landowners or organizations to help move its existing trail projects faster. The money also could be used as matches for grants to spur new trail developments.

“That’s really exciting to know we have an influx of funds and then it’s determining the best way to use them,” she said. “We’re not going to rush into anything but we’re not going to sit on it forever either.”

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