During a citywide visioning process back in 2000, Ken Kitzman got excited about the concept of a Minot charitable foundation that would enable local residents to share their financial success with the community.
Eleven years later, as president of that foundation, Kitzman is no less excited about how far the foundation has come and yet could go.
The foundation, with $14 million in assets, has returned $4 million to community projects through nearly 800 grants to about 50 organizations. That doesn't include more than $6.5 million raised for the Minot Area Flood Recovery Fund, which is gradually distributing money to residents impacted by the summer flood and to organizations seeking to assist them.
Jill Schramm/MDN • Ken Kitzman looks at a photographer’s rendering of the summer flood.
The foundation had been the dream of Kitzman and a fellow Rotarian, Ken Williams. The two were serving on a visioning committee when they took note of donations being made to a Minot Rotary scholarship fund through the North Dakota Community Foundation in Bismarck because Minot had no public foundation.
"That was the impetus to say, 'Why aren't we doing that?'" Kitzman said. "That was a real rallying call."
A large donation from Mike Dolan helped kick things off. Building the foundation further took time, though.
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"We started literally in the basement of my house," Kitzman said. Lowell Latimer was the first president, serving part time. When Latimer left the position a year later, Kitzman stepped in.
"I just thought that was my calling," Kitzman said. "Now when you look back, it was a perfect fit, being in the right place at the right time with the right organization."
Connie Feist, outgoing chairwoman and member of the board since the inception, said the foundation's impact is due in large part to the compassion that Kitzman brings to the position.
"To know Ken is to realize that leading the foundation is not just a job to him, but a passion and dedication to making our community a better place for all," she said.
Kitzman, a Minot native, holds a business degree from Minot State University. He had worked for Midwest Federal and as director for the Trinity Foundation. He was active over the years in the Jaycees, Rotary and Chamber of Commerce, forming many connections in the community that proved helpful in promoting the new community foundation.
Although he had wondered if his first couple of paychecks with the fledgling foundation would clear, he said, "I never ever thought that we would fail. Never."
Williams credits much of the success of the fund to Kitzman's leadership.
"I couldn't have asked for more in selecting him as the president. That was just a really good thing for us," Williams said. "For me, it's just been fun to watch him grow in his ability and his community commitment and just his understanding of what we are doing in the community and why we are doing it. All that he brought to the table played out in a big way in the last year."
When the flood became imminent, Kitzman laid out a plan to raise money through a Minot Area Recovery Fund.
"The flood was a defining moment for us," Kitzman said.
The foundation raised $1 million in 10 days. The money kept coming in and still comes in. About half the proceeds have gone out into the community so far. The distribution, which consists of reimbursing homeowners for rebuilding costs, has been controversial. Landlords, renters and those who decided not to put money into their flooded homes don't share in the distributions.
Kitzman said the 12-member board attempted to help as many people as it could in the face of Internal Revenue Service restrictions. A general giveaway would endanger the foundation's nonprofit status and the other work that it promotes, he said.
"You just can't keep everybody happy, but you have to just do what's right," he said.
Looking back, he has no regrets about the recovery fund despite some tough times.
The decision not to use any of the fund donations for administration set the foundation back close to $50,000, forcing it to operate on reserves. The three-employee foundation also has struggled with lack of manpower.
A telethon brought donations by the boxload and overwhelmed the staff. With the help of a Minot State University student and volunteers from Brady Martz, the foundation kept its head above water. Volunteers who have been assisting in processing and distributing money to flood victims also have been invaluable, Kitzman said.
Adding to the activity during the flood, the foundation made a move from its office space in the Wells Fargo building to temporary quarters in American Bank Center at the end of June. The offices moved into a newly constructed building at 606 West Burdick in November.
In his new office, Kitzman has a window view of the city on one side of his desk and portraits of more than 20 major foundation donors hanging on the wall on the other side.
"I really do love my job. I come to work early not because I have to. It's the ownership thing. I have been here from the beginning. That small seedling that we all envisioned has really blossomed," he said.
With additional endowments primed to generate even more future proceeds, the foundation could be investing $1 million in the community within a few years, Kitzman said.
He said it is good to know that he was part of creating something that will benefit Minot long after he is gone.
"I think we got it right. You can look back and say this will stand much longer than we will ever be here," Kitzman said. "Everybody has a legacy. This is my legacy."