Wise Words on Personal Wealth: Live and enjoy what you need. Be generous with the rest.
It was a windy summer day in Dusty, New Mexico, where Bruce Rolstad, a key founding member of NMCF in 1983, learned to play “cowchip poker.” “Well, you see, there were very few people and a lot of cattle in much of NM 30 years ago,” he says. “And so I guess it made sense to spend time placing wagers on just where a cow would place her next ‘chip’!” Rolstad also attributed that disproportionate ratio of livestock to citizens as a chief barrier to fundraising for charitable aims.
“Back in those days, the concept of private philanthropy was not even conceived yet in NM, so we had a real hard time finding money. But the needs in rural NM were so great. All these little places—Hillsboro, Tierra Amarilla, Thoreau—no one was looking out for them. We wanted to provide resources from the private sector because government and business would not do it.”
Rolstad eventually became part of a cadre of like-minded, forward-thinking social activists who formed NM’s first statewide community foundation to fill a gap in the education, economic, health and human services sectors with a special rural focus. “We crisscrossed the state; we were out on the road finding out what the needs were and trying to find resources to meet those needs.” Rolstad is especially proud that NMCF made a humble grant as seed money for Ganados Del Valle (Shepherds of the Valley), a now-thriving gras-roots organization in the Chama Valley, centered around a dying sheep industry where sustenance and spirituality go hand in hand.
In 1990, Harlan Flint, retired director of External Affairs for British Petroleum-US operations, returned to NM, where his experience and influence in corporate philanthropy on a national scale inspired him to survey the social landscape of his new home. What he saw both concerned and energized him. Flint witnessed an expansive, awe-inspiring rural NM that was in dire need of basic services in health, economics, education and agriculture.
Flint was deeply impressed by NMCF’s commitment to rural and small town concerns, and in less than one year he became board chair. “I was the chair of the Foundation when we struck the deal with the Ford Foundation,” he recalls with pride. Over the course of two decades, the Ford Foundation along with other national funders like the W.K. Kellogg Foundation has contributed tens of millions of dollars to NM with NMCF as the steward of many of those grants.
“It was always my hope for NMCF that we would become less dependent on external funding sources so we could grow according to our vision and pursue the Foundation’s own personality. Unfortunately, we were ineffective in generating large gifts from within the state,” Flint wistfully lamented. “But that has changed in a significant way!” Flint is impressed by the strides made to build NMCF’s endowment and by the resources that have been allocated since his time on the board. “That is the Foundation’s biggest success,” he says.
As a young college student, philanthropist and retired restaurateur Terry Brewer got his start in the business world selling homemade sandwiches door-to-door in late-night dormitories to hungry undergrads. “I learned at a young age that successful businesses are like a horse and rider: you need a really good idea, which is the horse. But you have to have the right management team—the right rider–to turn the idea into something. Today, NMCF has exactly that right combination!”
Brewer moved to Santa Fe in 1993. “After I had become successful and made some money, I realized that some of my profits belong to my community. I knew it was right to give back. Originally, I invested about $200,000 in NMCF early-childhood development programs. Diane Denish would attend the big summer soirées I hosted at my home to raise funds for the foundation, and she became very interested in our work.” Eventually, the lieutenant governor worked with NMCF to create a statewide early childhood education program modeled after the Brewer-funded program.
Brewer has proudly supported NMCF for 20 years. “Everyone who is down on their luck or who has met hard times needs a champion. That’s what the NMCF does. It’s the champion for so many people and causes that just need a little lift, a little support, a little money to do miraculous things. I have seen it happen, and it brings tears to my eyes!”
NMCF’s first steps as a statewide community foundation were both inspired and tragic. In 1983, Peggy Driscoll, actress and heiress of the Weyehauser Family, and Bruce Rolstad, plotted with another friend to start a foundation to “pool resources and serve NM’s most vulnerable communities.” Driscoll planned to endow the foundation with a $20 million gift. Tragically, she died in a car crash soon after the idea was hatched. Rolstad and his friend took a leap of faith and decided to proceed with the foundation without an endowment, though the Weyerhauser family donated some of the initial funds.
For the first five years, all NMCF staff were volunteers, and the only significant funding received was a $40K NEA grant to start a church restoration project that would later transform to Cornerstones, a signature program in the earliest years of NMCF, partially funded by Faith Meem.
Due to the vision, persistence and faith of Driscoll, Rolstad and NMCF’s other founders, NMCF has survived 30 years, and is now managing almost $25 million in assets, still pooling resources to support NM’s most underserved populations.