Idaho Community Foundation History

The Idaho Community Foundation was established in 1988. It has its roots in the Whittenberger Foundation, a private foundation based in Caldwell.


The Whittenberger trustees found themselves overwhelmed with requests for charitable grants. They realized that a broader, deeper source of charitable funding was needed in Idaho. They had heard of community foundations, and it occurred to them that one might make sense in Idaho.

They approached John Fery, who was chairman and CEO of Boise Cascade, and asked if he would chair a Steering Committee to look at the possibility of establishing a community foundation. John traveled around the state to gauge people’s interest. There was a lot of support in the idea and the Idaho Community Foundation was established.

Fery and other members of the Steering Committee knew from the beginning that establishing a statewide organization would be challenging because of the cultural and geographic differences in Idaho.

To overcome the idea that this was a “Boise” foundation, the founders established two rules:

  • None of the three regions – the North, the East, and the Southwest – could have more than 48% or less than 25% of the Board for representation.
  • Distributions from the foundation’s unrestricted funds would be divided equally among the three regions.

The Idaho Community Foundation launched its Founding Donor campaign in August 1989 with a goal of raising $5 million in five years. Thanks to significant support from throughout the state, the campaign ended in 1992 having met its goal.

In June 1991, the Idaho Community Foundation made its first grant awards to eight nonprofits in north Idaho, nine in east Idaho, and 14 in southwest Idaho. The total of all the grants was $164,000

In August of 1998, the foundation had surpassed the $20 million asset goal the Board of Directors hoped to achieve by the year 2000, so they set a new goal – $50 million in assets in the year 2000. The goal was reached briefly in the fall of 2000, however a subsequent decline in the financial markets soon reduced the asset total.

After many years of US Bank’s contribution of rent-free space in the US Bank building, ICF moved to a home of its own – a Victorian house near downtown Boise in January 2000. John Fery chaired a capital campaign which raised $458,000 for the purchase of the house.

By the end of 2007, assets of the Foundation grew to an all-time high of $72.6 million, but the recession in 2008 brought assets back down to $55.1 million at year end. Grants and distributions in 2008 totaled $6.8 million.

Between 2010 and 2013, the foundation grew its staff and Board of Directors to provide more coverage throughout the state. The Board was expanded from 22 to 30 members and a full-time communications director and two part-time regional development officers – one in Coeur d’Alene and one in Idaho Falls – were hired. The foundation also began hosting its Annual Luncheon in four locations throughout the state, instead of only in Boise.

ICF received a three-year $230,000 grant from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust in 2014 to bring the part-time regional development officers to full time, hire a part-time regional development officer in Twin Falls and hire a part-time donor relations officer.

In 2016, the Board conducted a nationwide search for a new President and CEO and hired Karen Bilowith. Karen had previously been President and CEO of the Community Foundation for the Greater Capital Region in Albany, NY.

Karen created a Community Impact team, which replaced the foundation’s donor relations department and focused on creating partnerships with organizations throughout the state to help strengthen nonprofits and philanthropy in Idaho.

Realizing that some donors weren’t drawn to the idea of endowed giving, the foundation looked to the work of other community foundations and began offering new non-endowed fund options in 2017, including non-endowed Agency Funds and new options for its non-endowed Donor Advised Funds (formerly Philanthropic Gift Funds).

ICF Founder John Fery passed away in 2017 and was recognized with many tributes in the Treasure Valley community.

By 2017, ICF had grown to 580 charitable funds. It had $181.3 million in assets and an endowment of $134.1 million. Total grantmaking had climbed to $114 million.

Idaho Community Foundation Presidents and CEOs
1988-1993 – Dr. Sally J. Thomas
1993-1996 – Steve Guerber
1996-2004 – Alice E. Hennessey
2004-2008 – Cathy Silak
2008-2009 – Alice E. Hennessey (interim)
2009-2016 – Bob Hoover
2016-current – Karen Bilowith

Idaho Community Foundation Board Chairs
1988-1997 – John Fery, Boise
1997-2000 – Park Price III, Idaho Falls
2000-2002 – Roger Martell, Boise
2002-2004 – Dolores S. Chapman, McCall
2004-2006 – Duane Jacklin, Coeur d’Alene
2006-2008 – Douglas R. Nelson, Idaho Falls
2008-2010 – Joseph W. Marshall, Boise
2010-2012 – Sandra L.S. Fery, Boise
2012-2014 – Michael McBride, Twin Falls
2015-2017 – Bill Berg, Sagle
2017-2019 – Sue Thilo, Hayden Lake
2019-2021 – Steve Carr, Idaho Falls