Communal spirit fuels McCook challenge grant victories

McCook Community Foundation Fund may have mastered the art of absolutely crushing challenge grants. Since 2007, when Don and Alice Harpst first tasked the community with raising $75,000 to receive a $25,000 match, residents at large have dug deep to support their hometown and its future. In the ensuing years, McCook raised more than $1 million through challenge grants to build a $6.4 million endowment.

McCook’s hard work is paying back dividends—endowment payout has already resulted in $3 million reinvested into the community.

“Along with the Harpst Challenge, the Sherwood Challenge proved to the committee, and more importantly to our community, that we could raise these kinds of funds for an unrestricted endowment instead of one-time fundraising for capital campaigns,” said McCook FAC Chair and NCF board member Cindy Huff. “The Sherwood challenge funds directly increased our endowment account many times over, increasing our granting capacity. The Building Community Capacity challenge, offered through our affiliation with Nebraska Community Foundation, led us to other home-grown challenge grants, including the Myers Challenge and the Sehnert Challenge, both very successful.”

The community vanquished the Sherwood Challenge, then demolished the Myers and Sehnert challenges, demonstrating astonishing commitment from residents of all stripes. The secret to success, as Dale Dueland sees it, is to make the community truly understand and care about your goals. That means reaching out to every donor and sharing your own dedication to the community.

“I think the key to a successful homegrown challenge is to think about what the needs are in your community and define and articulate those needs,” Dueland said. “Then start to create a story you can be passionate about.”

Once the community begins to share that passion, residents notice abundant assets and shift their gears into active hope.

“Some people may have a scarcity mentality,” said Ronda Graff. “What these homegrown challenges demonstrate is its actually plentiful. There’s plenty of financial resources available in the community and people want to share those resources to make the community better.”

McCook’s success with challenge grants leaves them in a superb position to capitalize on a tremendous transfer of wealth opportunity—$608 million potentially changing hands through the next decade in Red Willow County.

Dueland, a fourth-generation farmer, understands the importance of keeping the wealth in the community. He’s seen too many family farms cease operations over the years.

“We have abundant resources in our community,” Dueland said. “We need to capture part of that to keep our community vibrant and vital.”

Hear more from these ambitious Nebraskans in the audio story below:


Reach out to your professional advisor to learn how you can give and consult Nebraska Community Foundation’s Planned Giving resources for more information. You can also contact NCF’s Office of Gift Planning by calling 402-323-7330 or sending an email to

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