We are excited to share our 2023 Annual Report, celebrating the transformative changes and new initiatives that have strengthened our organization over the last year. This year’s theme, Building Community, highlights our progress in executing our strategic plan. We expanded our Crew, implemented a new grant Framework, led Community Projects, and devised Future Plans. Like any building process, we encountered growing pains, but our solid foundation enabled us to adapt and thrive. Our success is a testament to collective efforts, vital partnerships, and your generosity.

We invite you to explore our report, our “blueprint” for building a resilient and vibrant community in Otsego County. Together, we’re creating a lasting impact, now and for the future.

                              Dana Bensinger

                                                                     Executive Director

       Cherie Nutter

                          Board Chair


In 2023, the OCF shifted from planning to implementation. After spending most of the five months post-tornado on response and recovery, we returned to our strategic plan in the fall of 2022. The unexpected events of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Gaylord tornado propelled the OCF into a new role that extended beyond donor services and grantmaking into community leadership, including addressing critical challenges. To step into this role fully, the path forward was clear. It was time to expand our crew and grow into the role the community needed us to be. We needed more human resources to Build Community more effectively and create a wider reach.  

OCF staff members wore many hats in years past, and everyone had their hands on different projects. For us to be more impactful and effective as an organization, we needed to differentiate and streamline our existing roles. This meant expanding our staff. We created two new positions and added two members to the OCF crew last year.  We built the plane as we flew it, with all the staff coming together to move us in a unified direction.  

In January, the OCF welcomed Kristine Lassen in the role of Communications Coordinator, a position made possible by a grant from the Center for Disaster Philanthropy. And, Katie Warner started as the OCF Administrative Assistant in July.

As every year, we cannot thank our board members, committee members, and volunteers enough for their time, energy, and talents that they put toward helping us build a stronger community. 


In 2023, the OCF implemented a new, more impactful grantmaking framework following the success of 2022’s Way Forward Campaign. This strategy represented a shift in our grantmaking philosophy. We offered local nonprofit organizations different grant options that were tailored to their needs. The new grant framework was designed with the following goals in mind:  

Support multi-year grants to promote effective programming and planning  

Build capacity and support the incredible work of local nonprofit organizations 

Leverage greater funds from outside the community through matching grants 

Add additional grant cycles throughout the year.  

Fully fund grants and champion projects that are actively addressing one of our identified SDG’s.   

Focus on projects that pilot, scale, accelerate, or fill significant gaps 

Gaylord High School Fishing Club

Otsego County Food Pantry

Headwaters Land Conservancy

Learning from the needs of our nonprofit partners, we expanded the types of grants offered from a one size fits all approach to multiple options including: 

Seed Grant

This grant type funds a new concept or pilot program. 

Capacity Grant

This grant type funds an investment that strengthens nonprofit performance or outcomes such as new strategies, improved processes, or staff development. 

Expansion Grant

This grant type funds an increase in the size or scope of an existing program. 

Sustaining Grant

This grant type funds an established program or project that isn’t altering its size or scope. 

We are encouraged that this new framework will allow us to have a more lasting impact on our nonprofit partners and our community. Early indicators paint that picture. For example, a multiyear $18,000 capacity grant to support the Otsego Career Access Network (OCAN) leveraged $36,000 from the Michigan College Access Network for two years.  In its first year, OCAN helped 19 economically disadvantaged students with the college admissions process. This would not have been possible under our previous process.  The different types of grants help meet the specific needs of nonprofits, and the grant amounts awarded have increased.   In 2023, the average grant amount from OCF funds was $3,300, and the average grant amount awarded from the OCF Fund for the Community was $4,351.  We believe that over time the impact on our community will be more significant.  Over time we believe this framework will produce significant, widely shared, lasting results. 

Prior to the campaign, our average grant was $1,800. Within one year our average grant went from $1,800 to $3,300. 

Community Projects

Grantmaking is at the heart of the OCF. Connecting donors to what matters to them and supporting local nonprofit organizations who are addressing the needs and opportunities in our community is one of the ways we activate generosity for a strong community.  In 2023, OCF grants totaled $1,538,346.64. As the dollar amount that we put into Community Projects grows, so does our impact. Numbers are only part of the story. The lives that are touched by your generosity are why we do this work.  Here are some of the stories from 2023.  

Art in the Alley

Gateway Trailhead and Claude Shannon Park in downtown Gaylord. Gaylord Area Council for the Arts (GACA) and RISE, an organization committed to helping youth stay substance-free, worked together to create a beautiful mural in Claude Shannon Park. GACA applied for a $83,336.00 seed grant to beautify this blighted alleyway. Over the twelve weeks it took to create this mural, the students learned not only how to create a work of art of this scale, but they received mentoring and leadership training as part of this program. Each piece in the mural represents one of the artists who helped bring this to life. The Lampert Family Fund of the OCF, the Arts and Culture Fund of the OCF, and Funds for the Community awarded $10,000 to this project.  

According to Lisa Marie Tobin, Executive Director of GACA, they successfully leveraged this grant and expanded the project. They applied for a large Consumers Energy Grant, along with 239 other applicants, and were in the top 5 applicants. They received $14,000 for operations costs from a Michigan Arts and Culture (MAC) grant, received in-kind donations from The City of Gaylord, and have the buy-in of three local businesses to share the costs of extending the mural project. “All of this was possible,” said Lisa Marie, “because of the original grant from the Community Grant Program.”  

The Refuge

In 2023, the Refuge was awarded $9,100 per year for three years to continue its mission of providing emergency housing for homeless men, women, and children in Otsego County. From October 1, 2023, to the end of the year, The Refuge has housed 96 adults and 25 children for a total of 475 nights of lodging. Watch this video with Sue Smith, President of The Refuge to learn more about their work in our community.


Connecting funds from forward-thinking donors to Otsego County students pursuing further education strengthens the foundation of our community. In 2023, the OCF awarded 24 scholarships from 13 funds, totaling $23,500, to local students. Watch the video to learn more about these deserving scholarship recipients and their plans for the future. 

Annual Site Visits

Each year, representatives from the Community Grant Program funding partners and donors to the OCF have the opportunity to see their generosity in action with the Annual Site Visit. Last October, donors had the opportunity to visit grantees to see how they put their grants to use.  

Otsego County Fire Board

Big North Boomers

Headwaters Land Conservancy

Tip of the Mitt Junior Golf Association

Golf is big here in Otsego County. It is a major source of recreation for our residents and visitors, a huge part of the economy, and one of the ways people can enjoy the beauty of our area. The Tip of the Mitt Junior Golf PGA Junior League programs expose kids to the sport of golf and the host of benefits that are an extension of participating in this sport.  

In 2023, forty-one kids participated in the PGA Junior League program in Otsego County with plans to continue in 2024. Instruction for an additional forty-three junior golfers was provided in conjunction with the Gaylord Area Junior Golf Association (GAJUGA).  The impact of this grant goes beyond junior golfers improving their drives and short games. Each week, kids were brought to different area golf courses to practice or play, cementing their interest in the sport, and strengthening the future of golf in this area. In many of those cases, parents rented carts and purchased food and beverages, boosting area businesses currently.  

Participants went through the program’s life skills curriculum, which includes the Key Commitments of using good judgment, collaborating with others, building a positive self-identity, pursuing goals, and growing through challenges. These commitments were tested in real-time during last year’s program. An exceptionally talented 6-year-old entered the program, playing at a level well above his age. As a result, he was paired with much older kids. Some of the older kids were not sure how to interact with a much younger kid who was playing as well as, if not better than they were. This created a situation where coaches and a parent collaborated with the older players, struggling to treat the younger player with the respect he deserved. Implementing the Key Commitments created the outcome of everyone getting along great and competing beautifully by the end of the season.

Sometimes it is the unexpected outcomes of a grant that widen its impact and create benefits that could not be anticipated on the front end.  

Gaylord Community Schools Drone Program

 Last year, GHS teacher Hannah Romel applied for a grant through the Community Grant Program to establish a Drone FAA Certification preparation program at Gaylord High School. Her motivation was to provide a vehicle for her students to get in on the ground floor of up-and-coming technology that equips students with skills that make them highly sought after in the workplace. The grant established a program that prepared students to become certified drone pilots at no cost to them, allowing them to apply for drone pilot jobs after passing the certification test.  

Ms. Romel applied for a Seed grant through the new Community Grant Program framework established in 2023. She requested $18,186.56 for this program. Nineteen GHS students went through the class this school year. Five students passed the certification exam in May of 2024. Others are deferring the exam until later for various reasons. Ms. Romel is updating the curriculum for next year and is looking forward to attracting more students to the program.  Multiple funding partners came together to make this possible, providing an excellent opportunity for Otsego County youth, including the Cwik Holly by Golly Fund*, Youth Fund*, Kohnert Family Fund*, Rotary Club of Gaylord*, COPS Fund*, The Drzewiecki Agency/The Meemic Foundation, Kiwanis Club of Gaylord, U.A.W. Local 388 Educators Fund*, and Funds for the Community.  

*of the Otsego Community Foundation.

You can hear from Ms. Romel why this program is so important to her and her students by clicking the green button.

On May 9, 2023, 170 women attended the OCF’s 100+ Women Who Care event, which was held at Tree Tops Resort. Over 20 local nonprofit organizations were nominated to receive the evening’s grant awards, more than had been nominated in the past. The four organizations chosen to speak were Johannesburg-Lewiston School Thunder Bay Health Center. State Trooper Outreach Partnership (STOP), Northern Michigan Children’s Assessment Center, and Alpen Frost. Kat Steinbrecher was the event’s Corporate Sponsor.  When the votes were counted, STOP walked away with the $5,000 grant, and Northern Michigan Children’s Assessment Center was awarded $3,500. The remaining $8,500 of the evening’s proceeds will go to the Community Fund of the Otsego Community Foundation which supports Otsego County’s future needs.  

The OCF’s 2023 Extreevaganza event was unprecedented. Over 400 guests attended this event, the most in its history.  Guests participated in a silent and a live auction, a raffle, Heads or Tails game, a Golden Ticket game, and a dessert auction. Executive Director Dana Bensinger spoke to the power of community philanthropy while videos from grant recipients illustrated the impact of local grants. Attendees voted for 22 2 None to receive a $5,000 grant to go toward their mission to reduce veteran suicide. The Community Fund of the OCF received approximately $200,000 from this event, thanks to generous Corporate Partners, participants, and donors 


The OCF has taken on a broader leadership role in our community over the last few years, offering programming and working with other local organizations to assist Otsego County residents more directly. In 2023, we continued to bring local nonprofits together for networking and sharing resources.

The Gaylord Long Term Recovery Group (GLTRG) continued the important work of assisting Otsego County Residents to recover from the tornado in 2022.  $560,000 was invested in long-term recovery efforts to make tornado survivors whole again. This included 27 different projects repairing roofs, windows, plumbing, tree removal, etc. A special partnership with Gaylord Long Term Recovery Group, Otsego Antrim Habitat for Humanity, Otsego County United Way, and the Otsego Community Foundation committed to building a new home with special accommodations for one Otsego County family of four. The tornado left the family’s father paralyzed and reliant on a wheelchair for his mobility. He was the main income earner for his wife and two children and was unable to return to work. The family needed a home that would accommodate his wheelchair and his family. We are proud to have played a role in this important and impactful project.  

The OCF was instrumental in remembering the first anniversary of the Gaylord tornado on 5/23/23.  Storm victims and those involved with recovery efforts in all capacities reflected on progress and planted seeds for a stronger future. It was a powerful and memorable day. 

Future Plans

The OCF is committed to activating generosity for a strong Otsego County now and in the future. Using the power of philanthropic resources, we can make long-lasting change generations from now, fulfilling the wishes and visions of generous donors.  Managing charitable funds ensures resources for the future. Our funds are our future. 



Susan A. Jordan Fund

Sue Jordan has always taken care of her neighbors. Even as a little girl living downstate, she shoveled her elderly neighbors’ driveways. “I like to do things for other people,” Sue says. Her generosity and sense of service show up to this day. Sue still makes sure that her neighbors’ driveways are clear of snow, and she uses her woodworking skills to decorate the entrance to her subdivision with her creations. When the tornado hit Gaylord last year, Sue jumped in and volunteered with Habitat for Humanity and the United Way.

Given Sue’s love of her long-time home Otsego County and her desire to care for her neighbors, it made sense for her to become a member of the OCF (Otsego Community Foundation) Legacy Society. Sue is an only child with no children of her own and wanted to do something meaningful with her estate. Her financial advisor suggested she consider a Legacy Fund at the OCF. Sue didn’t know anything about the Legacy Society and didn’t know much about what the OCF did. She thought they were just a “fundraising group.” She set up a meeting with executive director Dana Bensinger to learn more. 


Gaylord Edward Jones Fund

Edward Jones has been a long-time partner of the OCF, with associates serving in various volunteer roles and sponsoring events. In the fall of 2023, local branch leaders contacted the OCF to explore other ways to positively impact the community with their philanthropy. After a meeting with Dana Bensinger, the team decided to establish a Donor Advised Fund (DAF) with the OCF. A DAF simplifies charitable giving for the donor(s) as the OCF handles all the administrative duties and magnifies the donor’s impact by bringing endless possibilities and partners to the process.  Each Edward Jones advisor and many staff members committed to giving to the fund, and corporate matched their individual efforts. Team members are also involved in reviewing community needs and determining where to award grants.   

By establishing a fund with the OCF, Edward Jones will positively impact the community by awarding grants while creating unique philanthropic opportunities for their staff. Donations of all sizes will be pooled together in this fund, amplifying each individual contribution. Those who donate to the fund will learn about community needs, and the group will decide together where the money will be spent. It is a win for all involved.”

Kristine Lassen, OCF Communications Coordinator

Long Range Success Fund

The Long Range Success Fund (LRSF) is a donor advised fund that was established in November of 2023 by an anonymous donor. This donor wanted to honor a relative  was a long-time  Gaylord resident and worked as a machinist. Partnering with the OCF and establishing a donor advised fund allowed this donor to have a say in awarding grants that would stay local and help support causes that their family member was passionate about.   

At first, this donor was skeptical of the grant process. As a Donor Advised Fund holder, donors are actively engaged in grantmaking.  After meeting with Amanda Sosa, Director of Donor Services, in the fall of 2023, it was not clear whether appropriate funding opportunities would be available or that this fund would have the desired impact. Yet, after going through the Community Grant Program, a competitive grant cycle, and reading the grant proposals, this donor’s mind was changed.

 “I realized that there were funding opportunities that were spot on and a perfect fit for what I wanted to do with this fund. Participating in the Community Grant Program, introduced me to a diversity of options to support that I didn’t know about. It also enlightened me to the needs of this area.”

~ Anonymous Donor

This year, the LRSF helped fund two programs that create opportunities for Otsego County youth—the Gaylord Youth Orchestra and the Kirtland Community Foundation High School Welding Kit grant The Gaylord Youth Orchestra provides instruments and instruction at no cost to the students for those demonstrating interest in the orchestra. The Kirtland Community Foundation applied for a grant to ensure all GHS students in the 2024-2025 welding program for the 2024-2025 school year had their own safety kits which they could take with them upon completion of the program. According to the donor, these programs honor their family member by removing financial barriers that may keep students from pursuing their passions and learning career building skills. By partnering with the OCF, this donor learned these programs could benefit from financial assistance and could help them succeed in their missions. 

Together we are stronger.  


Our ability to impact our community now and in the future depends on a solid financial foundation. The OCF prioritizes sound practices and procedures to support our good work. We adhere to field guiding principles and continue to learn and adopt best practices. In 2023, we once again received accreditation through National Standards for Community Foundations which signifies our commitment to the most rigorous industry standards so our donors know we are responsible stewards of their generous donations. Having excellent processes and meeting national standards is a cornerstone of a healthy financial foundation.





Click here for an in-depth look at the 2023 financial statements.

Ways to Give

Meaningful gifts of all sizes have propelled us to where we are today. If you want to be part of this progress, there are many ways to give. Click on each box below to learn more.

Make a Gift

A gift to the Community Fund provides long-term charitable support to help all of Otsego County become stronger and ready for whatever needs will exist years from now.

Establish A Fund

Support a cause. Give directly to organizations you care about.  Create a family tradition of giving. Honor someone or pay tribute to a loved one’s memory.

Leave a Legacy

Including the Otsego Community Foundation in your estate plan is an easy way for you to make a significant impact on community needs and create a legacy that lasts forever.

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