"My goals shifted from shaping the future of Minot to looking at community development in a different way."
When Megan Laudenschlager was working as the Minot Area Community Foundation’s finance and program director, she kept a dream book. In it, she would scrawl her hopes for the foundation, perhaps gaze at them after she wrote them down, and then table them for the future. They were big dreams at the time, ones that she wanted to accomplish in the future but wasn’t ready to tackle yet.
Now, less than five years later, as founder and executive director of the nonprofit Strengthen ND, she still has a dream book. It’s just used a little differently. As she puts it, “Instead of putting those ideas on the back burner, we just go for it.”
This initiative and gumption was always in Laudenschlager, but her two years as a Bush Fellow helped unlock it. She credits the Bush Foundation with helping her realize that failure is part of the process of innovation and pushing her to think bigger and reach farther than she had originally intended.
A Shift in the Plan
Laudenschlager had envisioned her 2014 Fellowship as a means to help her achieve a social entrepreneurship certificate and gain tools to help her community at home. At the time, Minot was still recovering from a 2011 flood that decimated 25 percent of the city’s housing and infrastructure, while also dealing with an influx of people due to an oil boom. In short, there were a lot of people looking for a foothold in the community, and Laudenschlager wanted to help make that happen.
While the end of her Fellowship still saw Laudenschlager pursuing ways to empower and unite people in her community, the means of doing so and the scope of community had changed. She ended up receiving a certificate in fundraising management through the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and attending the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, where she met people from all corners of the world, attended national conferences and started dreaming in broader terms.
“My goals shifted from shaping the future of Minot to looking at community development in a different way: how we could support those in the nonprofit sector who are working to improve quality of life and increase access to services for people who really need it,” says Laudenschlager. “That’s where Strengthen ND came from. After many conversations with the Foundation and my mentors, I took the leap and started looking at how we could craft an organization that could meet the needs that I was seeing not only in Minot, but across the state.”
“The Fellowship will always influence me in that I have a higher expectation of what I can achieve."
Strengthen ND is, to put it simply, a nonprofit that helps other nonprofits and organizations develop the rural North Dakota community. Workshops, boot camps, technical assistance and webinars are only a few of their offerings, and through a partnership with Minot State University, the organization has created a nonprofit certificate program to help community members learn financial management, grant writing, marketing, strategic planning and more.
While Strengthen ND has already helped numerous community members, from fundraising in the Williston area to securing grants for the economic development of Tuttle, Laudenschlager’s dreams for the nonprofit, and for North Dakota, are still expanding.
“The Fellowship will always influence me in that I have a higher expectation of what I can achieve. There’s always a fire within me to keep learning and doing more,” says Laudenschlager. “There’s so much strength that exists in our rural communities; there’s so much resilience and heart within those people that you can’t help but be inspired to continue.”