Supporting Graduation Initiatives Across Montana

Supporting Graduation Initiatives Across Montana

Elementary school students running through a hallway


"Trends in Northwest Giving" began as a project of Philanthropy Northwest in 2002 and has been published every two years as an aggregation and analysis of grantmaking trends that shape our region — Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming. Much of our sector’s growth, as well as the deep roots that strengthen our communities, is reflected throughout each report. Data alone doesn’t capture the human impact of philanthropy. That’s why this year, we’ve added regional spotlights to help capture the changemakers behind the grants” This article is second in the series and features Montana.

"A great idea is just that, unless there is a cadre of partners working together to ensure success. We just don’t work in silos anymore.”
Mike Halligan, Executive Director, Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation 

Spotlight on Montana

Grantmaking in Big Sky Country increased by 30% between 2014 and 2016. Education was the top priority for funders to Montana, receiving one-third of all funding. In Montana, the Dennis & Phyllis Washington Foundation has played a long-time role in funding education efforts.

Graduation Matters began in 2010 in the Missoula County Public Schools and was quickly scaled by the state’s Office of Public Instruction (OPI) because of its effectiveness. The Dennis & Phyllis Washington Foundation supported Graduation Matters financially since 2012, awarding $900,000 to the initiative during its time led by OPI, including a $185,000 grant in 2016.

“Graduation Matters exemplified the type of collective impact work we look for in proposals,” said Mike Halligan, executive director of the foundation. “The role of collective impact has been elevated tremendously over the past several years. A great idea is just that, unless there is a cadre of partners working together to ensure success. We just don’t work in silos anymore.”

The foundation’s leadership with the Graduation Matters initiative helped to galvanize other private foundations, businesses and donors to invest more than $1.3 million total in the initiative. These funds were primarily re-granted through OPI in the form of local grants to Graduation Matters programs in more than 50 communities.

In early 2017, in partnership with the Montana Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education (OCHE), the Montana Department of Labor and Industry and OPI, the foundation announced the creation of iGraduate Montana. The iGraduate initiative builds on the work of Graduation Matters and aims to increase graduation rates while also expanding workforce development activities. The foundation granted the OCHE $650,000 over four years to fund iGraduate Montana. This award brings the total awards by the foundation to support critical graduation initiatives in Montana to more than $1.5 million, and Montana’s high school graduation rates continue an upward trajectory, hitting a record high of 86.6% for the 2018-19 school year. This surpassed the previous year's record high of 86.4%.

For more information about giving trends in Montana, other states or the Pacific Northwest overall, please check out the full report online.