- Associated Press - Sunday, December 13, 2015

MINOT, N.D. (AP) - Megan Laudenschlager has made it her mission to help the people who are helping their communities.

Her newly launched Strengthen ND is off to a running start in achieving that goal.

“Working with the nonprofits and seeing how hard the staff and the volunteers and board members are working, and knowing there isn’t a resource out there that’s able to help them run more effectively, that was always something that was frustrating to me. They are doing so much with so little,” Laudenschlager said. So she asked herself, “How can we be a voice for them or how can we help them find their own voices when it comes to advancing the needs of the clients they serve?”

The answer was to form Strengthen ND last August to essentially serve as a nonprofit serving other nonprofits. Recently, Strengthen ND received a $50,000 grant from the Otto Bremer Foundation to support its operations in Minot and western North Dakota. Those operations include providing nonprofits with capacity- building opportunities, advancing regional issues and facilitating community solutions.

Capacity-building includes affordable, local training for nonprofit leaders in areas such as fundraising, marketing and strategic planning. Laudenschlager has sought to put together organizational training that’s applicable and easily implemented because many nonprofit leaders, she said, “don’t have a lot of time to sit and plan.”

The Minot Daily News (https://bit.ly/1TDaWNY ) reports that Strengthen ND also assists in circling nonprofits around an issue and then communicating that issue to local and regional foundations and elected officials.

“People really need to be aware of the number of folks in need in our community and how we can really work together to provide services to them efficiently,” Laudenschlager said.

Strengthen ND has assisted with the startup of the Northwest North Dakota Foundation in Williams, Divide and McKenzie counties. It has worked with Farm Credit Services’ Rural Community Grant Fund in assisting nonprofits to identify projects and write grants.

“It’s been so fun to get out in western North Dakota,” Laudenschlager said. “It’s fun to see how resilient those communities are and how they are getting together and just getting things done. We don’t often hear the good part of what’s happening in western North Dakota.”

Laudenschlager has focused Strengthen ND’s efforts on the portion of North Dakota west of U.S. Highway 83, although her agency also is providing training in Rugby and Devils Lake.

Strengthen ND came about after Laudenschlager took an in-depth look at nonprofits in western North Dakota through participation in a Bush Fellowship program. The program included a week at the Harvard Kennedy School in Boston.

Although it became clear that she needed to create Strengthen ND, she thought about it a long time. Support from her husband encouraged her to give it a shot.

“I didn’t ever feel like I was ready,” she said. “Just knowing, if this is going to sink or swim, it’s because of the work and the effort that you put in that’s just incredibly frightening and incredibly exhilarating. You have to trust yourself and know what you can do.”

To chart a direction, she visited with the Minnesota Council on Nonprofits and the past head of the former Nonprofit Resource Center in Fargo, which operated in the 1990s.

A native of Warwick, Laudenschlager learned from her parents’ example the importance of helping neighbors and getting involved in the community. However, that didn’t initially influence her career path.

She started studying radiologic technology but quickly determined that wasn’t for her. She then came to Minot State University to take courses in math, English and teaching. She finished with a math degree, going on to graduate school for statistics at Montana State University in Bozeman. As a teaching assistant there, she determined math wasn’t her destiny, either. She returned to MSU to study special education. While there, she worked at the North Dakota Center for Persons with Disabilities, an organization striving to improve the lives of people with disabilities.

“Haven’t looked back ever since,” Laudenschlager said. “I finally found my niche, my passion.”

She went on to work briefly for the Great Plains Center for Community Research and Service at MSU and was finance and program director for the Minot Area Community Foundation fromNovember 2011 until becoming executive director at Strengthen ND.

She has been among the organizers of Minot’s annual Magic Day of Giving, enlisting volunteers for projects throughout the community. She is a board member for Minot Young Professionals and is past president of Sunrise Rotary, which conducts the annual Fill the Bus campaign to collect school supplies. Sunrise also has partnered with Minot’s other Rotary club to plant trees in Centennial and Roosevelt parks.

Laudenschlager enjoys volunteering.

“I like being a part of projects where there are a lot of other people involved because you get such a sense of community,” she said. “I don’t think I have ever gotten a better feeling, a feeling of just happiness, and more importantly gratefulness to the community, than on these types of experiences.”

It also gives her an appreciation for the people who do that type of work year-round, often with little credit and typically with inadequate resources.

“They are doing it totally because that’s who they are. To be surrounded by people who are like that is incredibly humbling and makes me want to be a better person,” Laudenschlager said. “There are so many great people out there who are doing so much to help people and to meet the needs of their communities.”


Information from: Minot Daily News, https://www.minotdailynews.com

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