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ImagineIF Foundation not invited to participate in Great Fish Challenge

by TAYLOR INMAN
Daily Inter Lake | July 2, 2022 12:00 AM

Officials with the Whitefish Community Foundation said Thursday they will not be inviting the ImagineIF Foundation to participate in their 2022 Great Fish Challenge. The announcement comes as contention continues to surround the ImagineIF Libraries board.

The Great Fish Community Challenge is a six-week fundraising campaign that garners community-wide giving for nonprofits in the valley. For the campaign, the Whitefish Community Foundation provides a percentage match on the first $20,000 raised by each participating nonprofit.

In a letter to the ImagineIF Foundation from the Whitefish Community Foundation, Programs and Outreach Director Lynnette Donaldson told the fundraising partner for ImagineIF Libraries that they are not invited to participate in this year’s campaign.

“The Community Foundation Board of Directors is aware of recent decisions made by the ImagineIF Libraries Board of Trustees which directly impact library funding. While ImagineIF Library Foundation has taken strides to distance itself from the situation, it is difficult for us to fund your programs and remain accountable to our donors,” Donaldson said in the letter.

The letter goes on to say they reviewed 78 applications and invited 71 organizations to participate in this year’s challenge. Donaldson said their picks reflect the need to balance including as many organizations as possible, while ensuring the Whitefish Community Foundation “has the capacity to administer the campaign and raise the funds necessary to keep the Great Fish Match strong.”

ImagineIF Foundation Executive Director Adam Tunnell relayed the news to Flathead County Commissioners in a letter. He said the funds raised last year from the Great Fish Challenge totalled more than $41,000.

“The loss of this funding is detrimental to the Foundation annual fund and therefore the program funding of ImagineIF Library. The basis for rejection is clearly stated by the Whitefish Community Foundation … The Foundation is constantly working to maintain donor confidence. We need to convey that the actions of the library trustees have continued detrimental effects on our ability to raise funds and supplement the county budget for the library,” Tunnell said.

He ended the letter by telling the commissioners that “a course-correction is required for us to effectively do our work.”

Tunnell said the message from the Whitefish Community Foundation’s decision spoke to the hiring of new Library Director Ashley Cummins and the loss of the library's accreditation.

The library board’s decision to hire Cummins, who doesn’t yet have her master’s degree, resulted in the loss of the library’s state accreditation and $30,000 in annual funding. Cummins has committed to finishing her degrees, but other controversies loom over the library board.

The Flathead County Commissioners voted on Thursday to appoint Carmen Cuthbertson to the library board. Cuthbertson was the first to challenge the book “Gender Queer” last year, which sparked an intense debate over what materials belong on library shelves. ImagineIF Library Board Trustee Marsha Sultz resigned as a result of Cuthbertson’s appointment.

“This is definitely showing that the actions of the trustees have community impact,” Tunnell said. “I had to bring it to the attention of the commissioners and to the trustees to say that their actions are impacting the way that I'm able to raise funds for the Foundation. We raise funds, which in turn is funding the library, adding funding to the county itself. So I just wanted to bring to their attention that their actions did have consequences,”

He said the Foundation is looking into alternative fundraising, but is in “another holding pattern to see what pans out with this current library trustee board and the way things are going.”

The next ImagineIF Library Board of Trustees meeting is July 21, where they are set to discuss election of officers and committees.

Reporter Taylor Inman can be reached at tinman@dailyinterlake.com

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