The Mary Jo Wegner Arboreteum in Sioux Falls.
Feature Stories

Meeting the Need

Community Appeals marks

70 years of impact

The executive director and board members for the Furniture Mission faced a dilemma.

To best serve the individuals and families in need of necessities such as beds, couches and lamps, the nonprofit needed to expand its physical campus. That, however, would mean going into debt, and the Furniture Mission had worked hard in recent years to become free of any crippling financial burden.

“It was our leaders’ dream or wish or fantasy that we would be self-sufficient,” Furniture Mission executive director Janean Michalov said. “But it was a very difficult decision also knowing that, according to the 211 Helpline staff, furniture is the No. 1 unmet need in our city. And I feel like as our city continues to grow … there’s never not going to be a need for us, and if we are to continue to service the need, we must do it efficiently and at a greater capacity.”

This fall, the Furniture Mission broke ground on a new 27, 432-square-foot facility on the Empower campus just east of downtown Sioux Falls. It will replace the nonprofit’s current buildings, each about 7,500 square feet, one located downtown and the other near 34th Street North and Cliff Avenue.

Funding for the new building came through the Greater Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce’s Community Appeals Campaign. After the Community Appeals Committee selected the Furniture Mission following a rigorous application process, Chamber members working from April through July 2022 raised $2.3 million. That far exceeded the original goal of $1.4 million and allowed the Furniture Mission to proceed with its dream.

For 70 years, the Chamber’s Community Appeals has served as a trusted guide for local businesses considering investing in the nonprofits’ dreams. Kathy Thorson, Central Bank, served on the Community Appeals Committee for five years.

“I love Community Appeals. I love the concept,” said Thorson. “The more I work with other cities, I appreciate it even more. It’s truly one of the things that makes Sioux Falls different. The gentlemen that put it together once upon time were forward thinking.”

“That committee does the due diligence for all the rest of the Chamber members, so we don’t have to listen to appeals from dozens of nonprofits every year to build new facilities,” said Dan Kirby, a retired general counsel who has been a Chamber member since 1974. “They select one or two that are most worthy and best governed and best well thought out so we can then write a check in the knowledge that we’re going to accomplish something.”

The Community Appeals’ program qualifies and provides for orderly scheduling of capital fund drives for nonprofit organizations and accredited, nonprofit post-secondary institutions. Since the program began in 1953, nearly $70 million has been contributed to such capital projects.

After organizations apply to conduct a capital fund drive, about 20 volunteers from local businesses begin gathering as a committee to review the entries. Each applicant is invited to give a presentation, then the committee approves and schedules campaigns based on the community’s needs and its capacity to support the projects. Typically, two campaigns are conducted per calendar year. The campaign schedule never conflicts with the Sioux Empire United Way campaign, nor does it overlap with the Forward Sioux Falls campaign, which takes place every five years.

Approved campaigns are typically scheduled two years in advance. A recently completed campaign for Active Generations supported the construction of a second senior campus on the east side of Sioux Falls. The next campaign—this one for the Veterans Community Project building tiny homes for homeless former servicemen and women—started Nov. 1.

I love Community Appeals. I love the concept.
The more I work with other cities, I appreciate it even more. It’s truly one of the things that makes Sioux Falls different. The people that put it together once upon time were forward thinking.

Kathy Thorson, Central Bank

The current round of interviews, which includes four organizations requesting scheduling, will be completed by year’s end. The presentations can be unforgettable, said the current Community Appeals Committee Chair Carl Johnson, First Interstate Bank.

“To hear an executive director or any employee give an impassioned speech about their mission, it’s sometimes eye-opening, it’s sometimes sad, it’s sometimes refreshing or it’s sometimes happy,” Johnson said. “It’s always interesting. It’s fascinating what’s going on behind the scenes. There are a lot of service providers for the needy, the hungry, the homeless, early education and after-school care.”

By their very nature, capital campaigns require an organization’s leadership to look toward the future, often calling for long-range planning of about five years if a campaign is to be successful.

The Furniture Mission ultimately would have expanded, but the suggestion that the nonprofit begin the application process meant a quicker-than-expected look into the future, Michalov said. Being accepted as a Community Appeals campaign has both immediate and long-range ramifications.

“I think that we could have (raised the funds), yes but I don’t think it would have been as well understood and as well received in the community as it was with the Chamber Appeals,” Michalov said. “When you have the right connections in place, which is what the Chamber offers you, it opens up the doors for further conversations, even for years to come. We are building relationships with people.”

Volunteers of America, Dakotas has expanded several times through the Community Appeals process, said executive director Dennis Hoffman, including the building at 1401 W. 51st St. that houses its residential program for pregnant and parenting women and their children; day-service resources for individuals with intellectual/developmental disabilities at 1309 W. 51st St., and 1310 W. 51st St., the Behavioral Health administrative and counseling office.

A 2019 Community Appeals drive resulted in the construction of a building at 3201 S. Theodore Ave. Homeplace houses Axios180 for runaway and homeless youths. During the presentation, the Community Appeals Committee learned that the Sioux Falls School District had identified 1,256 homeless students during the 2017-2018 school year. Of that number, 102 were between the ages of 16 and 21.

“These projects would have been extremely hard—it not impossible—to build without the significant support of the Greater Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce,” Hoffman said.

It is natural for an agency to see a need and feel a sense of urgency, but the Community Appeals program works best for those who take the time to carefully plan. It also creates a sense of camaraderie among nonprofits, who want to see other agencies succeed, Hoffman said.

“We’re in this nonprofit world together,” he said, “A win for Active Generations is a win for us also.”

The Community Appeals committee has a responsibility to assure Chamber members and potential donors that a campaign approved solicitation is worthy of funding consideration. Organizational factors considered by the Community Appeals committee include the leadership and stakeholders in the project, financial projections and whether a feasibility study has been completed. The committee also weighs the project’s economic impact, the degree to which the need exists in the community and quality of life factors.

Approved Community Appeals campaigns always include a specific fundraising goal. This reflects the final piece considered by the committee during the review process, and that is the estimated amount of funds available within the business community for philanthropic donations. An organization might begin the application process requesting a higher dollar goal than they are ultimately approved for.

The committee’s decision-making process isn’t easy. The trust that the business community has in the vetting process used by the committee is inherent to the program’s success. Decision-making can be challenging when there are very strong applicants, but not all can be approved immediately for a campaign.

When a request for a Community Appeals campaign donation comes across her desk, Thorson knows that her peers have vetted it.

The fact that you know that a Community Appeals-approved campaign has been vetted by other professionals that you rub shoulders with is important. It also puts nonprofits in Sioux Falls a step ahead.

“There are many, many good causes, and Sioux Falls is generous. It can be difficult to choose,” she said. “The fact that you know that a Community Appeals-approved campaign has been vetted by other professionals that you rub shoulders with is important. It also puts nonprofits in Sioux Falls a step ahead.”

There is no doubt that the business community values the work done by the Community Appeals committee. Many businesses include a Community Appeals line item in their budget for future years. By designating dollars for Community Appeals, that business might end up donating to an agency with whom they were previously unfamiliar.

With the multitude of nonprofits in this area, the public may sometimes overlook the smaller agencies. Most people could name big ones, and perhaps eight or 10 smaller agencies, Johnson said.

“A couple years ago (the committee) sat down and heard a presentation, and everyone in the room looked around and said, oh we had no idea,” he said.

Johnson himself had not heard of the work done by Glory House, a residential and outpatient center that helps free its clients from drug and alcohol abuse, until that nonprofit’s request was approved several years ago.

“It’s a great story,” he said of Glory House’s work.

Ultimately, the Community Appeals program is designed to benefit everyone – businesses, the nonprofit organizations and the general community. Businesses are confident that an approved campaign has been thoroughly vetted; organizations benefit from the team of Chamber volunteers, and the community thrives due to the investments that businesses make in capital improvement projects.