Montana’s Best: 2021 Nonprofit & Philanthropic Awardees

Thursday Oct. 14th, 2021

The Association of Fundraising Professionals, Montana Chapter (AFP), and Montana Nonprofit Association (MNA) once again teamed up to honor philanthropic and nonprofit impact in the state of Montana this year. Three individuals and three nonprofit organizations that embody the spirit of philanthropy and nonprofit leadership in Montana were recently honored at a virtual celebration which may be watched on MNA’s YouTube channel. This year’s Montana’s Best awardees have had an extraordinary and vital impact in the state. They have risen to unprecedented challenges in unprecedented times and have carried their communities and Montana forward. Those awards and awardees are:

The Upholding the Community Fabric: Safety Net Services Award which recognizes a nonprofit organization whose direct work in the health and human services arena was awarded to Missoula Food Bank and Community Center (MFB) for offering emergency food assistance and child nutrition programs to the Missoula community and beyond. MFB stayed open throughout the pandemic with a skeleton crew of dedicated volunteers and staff, permitting those in danger of food insecurity to stay fed and healthy. Staff worked tirelessly to solicit donations, and rallied the community to respond with abundance, allowing families to thrive despite job loss, illness, or homelessness. In addition, MFB took responsibility as a NeighborWorks Montana partner to help those in danger of eviction to apply for the state's Emergency Housing Assistance funds helping individuals and families throughout Montana stay in their homes.

The Upholding the Community Fabric: Vibrant Communities Award which recognizes a nonprofit organization whose work focuses on community vibrancy and vitality was awarded to Leadership Montana for their state-wide effort to bring leaders from business, labor, healthcare, education, nonprofits, and the government to address issues affecting Montana. This past year, they brought together representatives from the American Prairie Reserve and the United Property Owners of Montana to listen to each other’s perspectives and concerns. The conversation, held with the Leadership Montana Class of 2020, demonstrated that Montanans can effectively engage in civil discourse, with grace and dignity, even on issues with vastly different views and high stakes for all involved.

The Champion for the Common Good Award which recognizes a nonprofit organization whose work has resulted in significant progress on a policy issue was awarded to Public Land Water Access Association Montana (PLWA) for their advocacy for all those in Montana, regardless of financial ability, to fish, hunt, hike, camp, canoe, run, ride, and ski on public lands and waters. PLWA has worked to educate the public and private landowners about public access rights, oversee land transfers to ensure public access remains, and when necessary, take cases to court to ensure the public never lose their right to recreate in Montana. This work has brought Montana the Stream Access Law, the Bridge Access Law, the ability to access on State Trust Lands, and opened millions of acres of land to the public.

The Outstanding Young Professional Award which recognizes fundraisers under the age of 35 was awarded to Kiersten Iwai, Executive Director of Forward Montana Foundation (FMF). Kiersten leads the largest, youth-led civic engagement organization in the state, ensuring the next generation of Montana is empowered to engage in civic processes and democracy. In the past year Kiersten led a Get out the Count campaign for the 2020 Census, ran the largest youth voter mobilization campaign in FMF’s history, broadened and increased the scope of its advocacy work, and hired and supported staff in new areas of the state. During a year when nothing was certain, Kiersten's commitment to bold new ideas was a huge force behind FMF’s growth and success.

The Outstanding Fundraising Professional Award which honors a professional who works for a nonprofit, charitable organization was awarded to Mary Rutherford, President & Chief Executive Officer of Montana Community Foundation (MCF). Mary has thirty years of philanthropic leadership experience in Idaho, Washington, Alaska, and Montana. During her time at MCF, Mary has transformed the Foundation into an effective philanthropic leader that is raising millions each year to benefit nonprofit organizations throughout Montana. Under Mary’s tenure with MCF, 772 new philanthropic funds have been created, including the Montana Disaster Relief Fund/Covid Relief Fund to provide immediate support to communities affected by disaster, the Colstrip Impacts Foundation to provide $10 million to the community of Colstrip, 85 nonprofit endowments to benefit specific nonprofit organizations by providing a perpetual source of income each year, 81 Donor Advised Funds to provide grant dollars to nonprofit organizations, 548 Planned gifts to provide future benefit to Montana communities, and 12 Scholarship funds to support Montana students.

The Outstanding Volunteer Fundraiser Award which honors an individual that coordinates and motivates groups of donors and volunteers for the benefit of charitable institutions was awarded to Donald B. Gimbel. Despite nearing his 80th year and still holding a full-time job in private wealth management, Don serves on the boards of nine nonprofit organizations in Park and Gallatin counties. Don’s achievements in the past two years include but are not limited to raising half a million dollars for the Shane Lalani Center for the Arts, raising $157,000 for Counterpoint Inc., being elected to be the first non-judge to sit on the Executive Committee of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges as the Treasurer, and being interviewed by the late Brian Kahn for the program Home Ground, in which he spoke at length on the importance of philanthropy and the health of the nonprofit sector.

For more information about Montana’s Best: Nonprofit and Philanthropic Awards, please visit this webpage or contact Leandra Lipson at or 303-564-1330.