Whitefish Community Foundation officials said Thursday they will not be inviting the ImagineIF Foundation to participate in their 2022 Great Fish Challenge. The announcement comes amid ongoing controversy over the board of ImagineIF Libraries.
The Great Fish Community Challenge is a six-week fundraiser that raises community-wide donations for non-profit organizations in the Valley. For the campaign, the Whitefish Community Foundation is providing a percentage match of the first $20,000 raised by each participating nonprofit.
In a letter to the ImagineIF Foundation from the Whitefish Community Foundation, program and outreach director Lynnette Donaldson told the fundraising partner for ImagineIF libraries that they were not invited to participate in this year’s campaign.
“The Board of Directors of the Community Foundation is aware of recent decisions by the ImagineIF Libraries Board of Trustees that directly impact library funding. While the ImagineIF Library Foundation has taken steps to distance ourselves from the situation, it is difficult for us to fund your programs and remain accountable to our donors,” Donaldson said in the letter.
The letter goes on to say that they reviewed 78 applications and invited 71 organizations to take part in this year’s challenge. Donaldson said their selection reflects the need to involve as many organizations as possible while ensuring that the Whitefish Community Foundation “has the capacity to manage the campaign and raise the funds necessary to keep the Great Fish Match strong.”
Adam Tunnell, Executive Director of the ImagineIF Foundation, broke the news in a letter to Flathead County Commissioners. He said funds raised through the Great Fish Challenge last year totaled more than $41,000.
“The loss of this funding is detrimental to the Foundation’s annual fund and thus to the program funding of the ImagineIF library. The basis for the refusal is clearly stated by the Whitefish Community Foundation… The Foundation constantly works to maintain donor trust. We need to convey that library administrators’ actions continue to have an adverse impact on our ability to raise funds and supplement the county budget for the library,” Tunnell said.
He ended the letter by telling the commissioners that “a course correction is needed in order for us to do our job effectively”.
Tunnell said news of the Whitefish Community Foundation’s decision represents the hiring of new library director Ashley Cummins and the library’s loss of accreditation.
The library board‘s decision to hire Cummins, who does not yet have a master’s degree, resulted in the library’s loss of state accreditation and $30,000 in annual funding. Cummins has pledged to finish her degrees, but other controversies loom over the library board.
The Flathead County Commissioners voted Thursday to nominate Carmen Cuthbertson to the library’s board of directors. Cuthbertson was the first to question the book Gender Queer last year, sparking intense debate about what materials belong on library shelves. Marsha Sultz, Trustee of the ImagineIF Library Board, resigned as a result of Cuthbertson’s appointment.
“This definitely shows that the actions of the trustees are having an impact on the community,” Tunnell said. “I had to make the Commissioners and Trustees aware that their actions affect the way I am able to raise funds for the Foundation. We collect donations which in turn fund the library and increase funding for the county itself. So I just wanted to make them aware that their actions had consequences.”
He said the foundation is looking at alternative fundraising but is “on another hold to see what comes out with this current library trustee board and how things go.”
The next meeting of the ImagineIF Library Board of Trustees will be on July 21, where they will discuss the election of officers and committees.
Reporter Taylor Inman can be reached at [email protected]