Helena is Montana's capital, not only in terms of government, but also in terms of charitable organizations.
According to the Montana Nonprofits Association, Helena has the highest density of registered 501(c)(3) nonprofits among the state’s seven population centers. The city boasts 15.49 nonprofits per 1,000 residents.
Jim Lawrence, director of membership and resource development with the Montana Nonprofits Association, said that perhaps the Legislature is the reason. Proximity to the body of lawmakers allows nonprofits to advocate for their cause. Plus, Lawrence said, the Montana Nonprofits Association is in Helena.
“It’s the Montana Nonprofit Association that is the support for the nonprofit sector,” he said.
Many of the nonprofits in Helena have a statewide mission.
The Montana Human Rights Network, which advocates for social, cultural and political rights across the state, has been located in Helena since its inception in 1990. Its central location and proximity to policy-making are key to its mission, Rachel Carroll Rivas, co-director, said.
Lance Melton, executive director of the Montana School Board Association, said the association has been in Helena since 1964.
“The original thinking on locating in Helena was a combination of it being centrally located, and in proximity to the state agencies and other bodies, such as the Legislature, that affect our members,” Melton wrote in an email.
The same could be said for many other organizations, but Helena is also home to nonprofits that focus on local issues, such as the Helena Food Share, God’s Love Shelter, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Helena and others.
The nonprofit Compassion Tanzania is located in Helena but works to provide clean water for communities in the distant African nation.
Helena nonprofits employ 4,051 people with total wages of $141,502,764, according to a 2013 quarterly census by the Montana Department of Labor and Industries.
According to a 2008 report from the National Center for Charitable Statistics, Montana had the most registered 501(c)(3) nonprofits per capita of any state. But the number came with a disclaimer. Per capita nonprofits can be misleading when viewed on a national level, because some organizations conducted work through affiliates outside the city that housed its headquarters. For instance, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, headquartered in Missoula, had more than 600 registered chapters across the country in 2008, according to the NCCS.
“I think Montanans have a real pride of place; we are very proud of our state, very proud of where it is, we are generous people and I think we want to take care of each other,” Riley Meredith, marketing and communications director for The Montana Community Foundation, said.
Meredith, who previously moved from Montana to Las Vegas to work for a gaming tech company, said he wanted to return to Montana and find a job that was more fulfilling.
“From a professional and personal standpoint, I wanted to do something that would give back,” he said.
Meredith said he found that fulfillment in his position with The Montana Community Foundation, where he works to cultivate the culture of giving.
“Everyone seems like a neighbor in Helena,” he said.