Metro December 19, 2018

Community Impact

The Idaho Community Foundation celebrates 30 years of giving

In 1992, Ethel and Ronald Rawlinson, a nurse and a doctor from Emmett, Idaho, contributed $500,000 earned in their careers in medicine to establish a fund benefitting Gem County. With their gift, the Rawlinsons became one of the Idaho Community Foundation’s (ICF) major founding donors. The organization, established in 1988, invests funds it receives from philanthropists and helps them build their gifts and distribute them across the state. Since then, the Rawlinson fund, for instance, has distributed almost $900,000 in grants to fund local nonprofits, with almost $1 million remaining in the fund today. Overall, the ICF has granted more than $114 million across Idaho, including $8.7 million last year alone.

This year, the ICF celebrates 30 years of enabling Idahoans to engage in philanthropy in a way that directly impacts their communities. The foundation does this by allocating grants and scholarships from funds set up by donors across the state. The grants are directed toward everything from cultural projects like Boise’s James Castle House, to hospitals, educational organizations and whatever else the communities across Idaho tell the ICF they need.

“The mission of the Idaho Community Foundation is to improve the quality of life across the state of Idaho,” said Karen Bilowith, President and CEO of the ICF. “Community foundations are different from private foundations because we work literally with hundreds of donors to give back in their communities.”

Denise Smith served on the board of the Idaho Community Foundation for four years. When she went to work with The Cancer Connection of Idaho, a nonprofit that matches people whose lives have been touched by cancer with resources, she felt its impact first hand.

Smith was confronted with a challenge: how to support patients and families that were already inundated with services and programs. She realized that the ICF could facilitate the coordination of programs offered by the different organizations.

She created The Cancer Connection of Idaho fund through the ICF and setup an avenue through which nonprofits could partner to deliver their services and get the funding they needed.

“They provide us with all the nonprofits in the state that could be eligible to receive our funds,“ Smith said. “… They take care of so much of the administrative work so that we get the fun job of meeting every now and again to give away money and promote our fund internally. It’s been a really wonderful partnership.”

The ICF’s grassroots approach to distributing the funds has largely remained the same over the three decades it has been in operation: It believes that local communities know best how to distribute the funds.

“What has changed is we’ve grown and been able to think about how we can better impact local communities,” Bilowith explained. “We do more work at the grassroots level, engaging people in those communities and asking, ‘How can we help?’”

In celebration of its anniversary, the ICF spent the last year traveling around the state to ask simple questions from Idaho’s communities: What trends are you seeing? What are your needs? Its goal for the next 30 years is to take all of that data and identify the challenges being faced and determine how the funds can help address those challenges.

“Our plan for the future is to build on these efforts and see how we, as an organization, can partner with other organizations and help facilitate local communication, asking what changes they would like to see. This is a different approach to grant making that a lot of foundations are thinking about, asking how do we engage the people and communities, and asking what do you think we should do?”


The Idaho Community Foundation is most proud of what it calls its exemplary funds. These are funds that have given more in grants that the original amount of the fund. To learn more about these funds, visit the ICF’s brand new website at :

Ethel & Ron Rawlinson

Ethel R. and Ronald Rawlinson Fund

(Benefits Gem County)

Established: 1992

Contributions: $560,000

Total Grants: $890,000

Fund Balance (as of 2017): $966,000


Donald W. and Gretchen K. Fraser Fund

(Benefits Blaine County)

Established: 1994

Contributions: $317,000

Total Grants: $450,000

Fund Balance (as of 2017): $486,000

Herbert D. McAvoy Fund

(Benefits education in Kootenai County)

Established: 1996

Contributions: $753,000

Total Grants: $770,000

Fund Balance (as of 2017): $934,000


Wendell P. and Barbara J. Marshall Family Trust Fund

(Benefits eastern Idaho)

Established: 1994

Contributions: $255,000

Total Grants: $311,000

Fund Balance (as of 2017): $362,000

This article appears in the Winter 2018 Issue of Territory Magazine.