In his time as the executive director of the Great Falls Public Schools Foundation, Dave Crum built it up from nothing and into a multimillion-dollar organization funded by donors who share a common goal to foster a robust education experience for all children in the district.
Now, after nearly a decade with the foundation, Crum has decided to retire and let someone else take the reins.
“But I think the day-to-day working to make education better for students and teachers is what I’ll miss the most,” said Crum.
The foundation is accepting applications for a new executive director. Crum’s last full-time day is set for the end of 2020. From there, he’ll work part-time with his successor until his final day which is scheduled for June 30, 2021.
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When Crum first began with the foundation in October 2010 he had 17 years of fundraising experience with the McLaughlin Research Institute under his belt and was looking for a new challenge. At that time, the Great Falls Public Schools Foundation had no board and no money — but they had two goals: To support teacher grants and recognize excellence in education.
By December 2011, the foundation had begun to find its footing and was able to give away $57,000 in teacher grants. Now, they give away about $120,000 anually.
As the foundation grew it looked for new ways to improve education opportunities for local students and eventually began providing scholarships for high schoolers after merging with an existing scholarship foundation. As of 2020, the foundation manages 80 scholarships, totaling nearly $350,000 for students seeking higher education.
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In addition to supporting students, the foundation recently began seeking ways to support disadvantaged students. The Great Falls Public Schools Foundation supports food pantries in schools across the district, sponsors students who may not be able to afford Advanced Placement or other dual credit opportunities, and helps students with shelter, clothing and hygiene.
“It’s as simple as this, whatever we can do to keep a disadvantaged student in school and learning, we do it,” Crum said.
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The passage of the $98.8 million infrastructure bond for the district in 2016 allowed for the foundation to work with donors and get funding for more facility enhancements across the district. According to Crum, the foundation has solicited nearly $4 million for building enhancements.
“You know, I could say, ‘I’m a hard worker and I go out there all the time and I’m asking for money,’ not quite the story with this foundation. People identify areas that we support … and they come to us,” said Crum. “Yes, we have to ask for money, but donors come to us because … they see how they can make a different in a classroom.”
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Crum attributes much of the foundation’s success to maintaining trust with its donors.
Over his decade with the foundation, Crum holds a lot of pride in the annual truck raffle. As compared to other fundraising efforts like selling magazines or cookie dough to support organizations throughout the district, all the money for the raffle stays in Great Falls. From each $10 ticket sold, $6 stays with the organization and the remaining $4 goes toward the foundation’s teacher grants.
Last year, the raffle raised $135,000, and although the COVID-19 pandemic has complicated many things in 2020, Crum said that raffle ticket sales are only about 114 tickets behind where they were this time last year.
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Of all of her experiences working on nonprofit boards Karen Brandvold, the current board chair of the foundation, said her time with the Great Falls Public Schools Foundation has been “by far my favorite experience.”
“When they organized not quite 10 years ago and started with literally nothing, zero, and now we are the largest foundation in the state of Montana,” Brandvold said. “We as a board attribute that all to Dave’s hard work and success and relationships that he has fostered and cultivated throughout the Great Falls community.”
“What I love is that he always captures a situation or an issue or a concern and he’s already given it careful thought,” she said.
As the foundation board moves forward in its search to select a new executive director, Brandvold said they are hoping to find someone who is familiar with the Great Falls community with a connection to the school district.
“Somebody who has a passion for education and a skill set as a leader and a fundraiser,” she added.
Although Crum is looking forward to some additional free time in retirement, he hasn’t quite decided what he will do next.
“I don’t think that … retirement is just going to mean that I’m going to ski and fish and do all those things,” said Crum. “I get to pick what I’m going to do in the future, I’m not ready to be done working, I’m not sure what that’s going to look like though.”
Skylar Rispens reports on education and breaking news for the Great Falls Tribune. To contact her with comments or story ideas please email her at email@example.com. To support coverage of education in Great Falls subscribe today for a special offer.
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