New report on African community foundations and their “different kind of wealth”

Africa is rising. As it looks to its own economic growth, driven by its own resources, the question is no longer how to prevent the continent from sinking further into poverty, but rather how its wealth can be shared more equitably.

It is within this context that a new discourse around African philanthropy is developing. This is framed both by the need to shrug off a culture of aid dependency and the emergence of a new set of African philanthropic institutions.

Some of these new institutions are seeded with money from outside the continent while others are entirely home‑grown, but all seeking to draw on local resources and tap into different forms of wealth, which include cash but also include other, less tangible, forms of social capital such as trust and credibility. These organizations seek to occupy the spaces between large, formal philanthropy and more local level mobilization of communities and their assets, and to build bridges between the two. At the same time they also promote a form of development which is community‑led and community‑owned.

This report focuses on this group of institutions. They include community foundations, other types of community philanthropy institutions and local foundations – all operating in different parts of the African continent. The group is small but growing rapidly and has importance beyond its size. This report lays a baseline for the field and, although our data is incomplete, we see it as the beginning of an important story which interweaves different narratives from the sphere of international development and from Africa’s own rich traditions of giving and social solidarity.

We invite your feedback, thoughts and comments.

Jenny Hodgson and Barry Knight

Read the report in full

New grants include an environmental initiative in Costa Rica and a community foundation start up in South Africa – plus Zimbabwe, South Africa and the Philippines

The GFCF is pleased to announce US $70,000 in grants to five new and current partners in Costa Rica, South Africa, Zimbabwe and the Philippines. The grants include the first in a pilot programme focused on community foundations and the environment (supported by the Mott Foundation): the Monteverde Institute in Costa Rica is leading a  process to establish a community foundation for environmental conservation and sustainable community development, for which a key income stream will contributions from visiting tourists.

Monteverde Institute, Costa Rica: community leaders and activists discuss tourism and the environment

The Westlake Community Foundation is neighbourhood-based initiative in Cape Town which is being supported by the Community Development Foundation for Western Cape. A $3,000 grant has been awarded for start-up activities.

Also in South Africa, the West Coast Community Foundation has been awarded $20,000 for two separate initiatives – the introduction of MyMachine in South Africa and for a second regional peer learning event on community foundations and youth civic engagement.

Click here for a full list of all our recent grants

Call for applications for the 2013 Senior International Fellows Program for community foundation practitioners and grantmakers

This is a professional development opportunity offered by the Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society at the City University of New York for Third-Sector decision-makers to support community grantmaking and help build philanthropic capacity in their home countries.  

Fellows will

  • participate in a month-long seminar, including lectures and intensive sessions with leading practitioners.
  • visit community foundations and other grantmaking organizations to learn about their day-to-day workings.
  • meet prominent figures in the philanthropy/foundation community.
  • join a network of 166 alumni from 57 countries.
  • link with national and international networks of people, organizations and resources.
  • produce a position paper reflecting new strategies.

Applications accepted through Monday November 5, 2012 from non-U.S. citizens.  Applications from individuals residing and working in the U.S. are accepted on an ongoing basis.

Interested and want to learn more? Visit

Guest blogger Alina Porumb: from Romania to the United States and is there a global community foundation movement?

I recently had the opportunity to participate in the Council on Foundations’ Fall Conference for Community Foundations in New Orleans.

Romania has a growing movement of community foundations: there are currently eight active foundations and interest from another three communities. So how does a conference which brings together over a thousand community foundation practitioners from across the United States look from the eyes of a practitioner from Romania? Are there common themes when we look at the development of community foundations in the U.S. and in other parts of the world or are we actually talking about completely different realities?

Alina Porumb, Association for Community Relations

The first part of this article covers some of the key topics of the conference, as I saw them through participation in plenaries and some specific topics which I followed in the concurrent sessions. With limited experience of the U.S. community foundations field, I can only claim a sort of ‘tourist’ approach to my understanding on that side and more in depth understanding of community foundations in Romania and, more broadly, in Central and Eastern Europe.

I: Notes from the Conference

Stories are the soul of the sector. Look beyond metrics to the passion that drives this field

Stories are the soul of the sector and they are essential in helping people to learn about philanthropy, what it can achieve and the role it can play in society. At the heart of this conversation lie the people, ideas, initiatives and the differences that they make around the world, said Vikki Spruill, the new President and CEO of the Council of Foundations. It is about balancing process, metrics, measurement (the “how” of it) and passion, motivation, desire to make a difference (the “why” of it).

Yes, impact can be measured in numbers, but we should also look for the authentic soul invested and translated into hard work, ingenuity, compassion, connectedness. Then community foundations can truly become ‘foundations of community, centres for change, centres for hope’.

Business model and designing innovations for the future

Over the last few years, various concerns have been voiced around the long-term viability of the community foundation business model. They include the charge that is is not designed for sustained periods of market decline, the existence of more, better-priced, competitors and, finally, a changing definition of community.

According to Grant Oliphant, President and CEO of Pittsburg Community Foundation, it is time to ‘stop being shocked by the fact the there are challenges to the community foundation business model and value proposition’ and look at this as an innovation challenge. We should be less concerned about “quick fixes” to the revenue model and more focused on substantive content of the community foundation model, i.e. the value that community foundations bring to their communities, how they uniquely contribute, why that matters and who cares about it. In short we need to adapt to the context and imagine a way forward for ourselves. Indeed, it was observed, organizations that survive periods of disruptive innovations are those who reframe and act upon this reframing with a sense of urgency. A reframing in terms of the future we want to see and the role we want to play.

Donor advised funds and their strategic contribution

According to John Kania, Managing Director of FSG Social Impact Advisers, “the story begin 1931 with the New York Community Trust, which was the first community foundation that created donor advised funds as a way to make it easier for donors to give to the community during their life time.” Kania presented new data about donor advised funds that looks at the strategic value that these funds bring to community foundations (the study included 31 community foundations and data about over 6,000 donor advised funds). There are currently U.S. $14 billion in assets in donor advised funds and they represent half of community foundations’ grant dollars. For every U.S. $1 in planned gifts, there are U.S. $3 in donor advised funds. If ten years ago the conversation was about giving donors more choice and reconfiguring community foundations around donor needs, this has now shifted. ‘Now many community foundations see these funds as a gateway to deepen the philanthropic commitment, to inform donors about local needs and nonprofits and to find new partners for community grant-making and leadership’, observed Kania.

II. Reflections: comparing community foundations in the United States and Romania

The similarities…

I decided at the conference that if I take out the numbers (assets, years of history, numbers of practitioners, number of grants, number of donor advised funds, etc.), I feel pretty familiar with many of the topics of discussion and the challenges discussed.

Coming from an emergent movement in Romania, I see that the passion that drives the field is key, and that a fierce acceptance of the context with its opportunities and its limitations, coupled with a strong long-term vision are also vital. While issues of value articulation for community and other stakeholders are very important in the start-up phase, as our foundations develop I can see that it also becomes essential to focus on issues of sustainability and appropriate revenue models which can support the vision and values over the long term too.

Successful community foundations in Romania are using collaborative approaches and engaging other stakeholders in ongoing discussions around community issues and desired outcomes. We also face opportunities and challenges around engaging philanthropists – of all generations – and keeping them engaged both as donors and as community leaders. While these donors are starting to give, assets are not yet exactly “pouring in” – mainly because the model is new and still somewhat unfamiliar. And certainly, gathering more and better stories of community philanthropy and its contribution is vital in raising the profile and understanding of the movement at this stage too.

The differences…

Well, we’re back to the size of community foundations’ assets as well as the size of the field. However, it was interesting for me to find out that beyond the large and established U.S. community foundations, there are many of a similar size (at least in terms of staff) as you would find in the more experienced community foundations in Romania, with around 4 or 5 staff. While the conference highlighted how many community foundations in the U.S. are trying to look “beyond the numbers”, the numbers are definitely there in the form of data collection systems. For me it was impressive to see the degree of documentation of foundation practices and how there is a always a baseline which serves to informs the strategies of the community foundations field. Donor advised funds are not yet well established in Romania and in Central and Eastern Europe more broadly, and it was interesting to think about how they might be developed long term and also how important it is to see them as a form of partnership rather than a tool, mechanism or service. Also, I would like to see a strong documentation of practices and an equally strong professional infrastructure for support in Romania too, but numbers may be important here as well.

Perhaps the most significant difference is the long history of community foundations in U.S. and how most have been shaped by different influences over time (of course with the exception of newer community foundations). So new ideas emerge in a context of established practices and the experiences of what has gone – and I suppose this also means there is always the danger of reinventing the wheel and doing exactly the same as what worked before. However, change and redesign certainly seem to be key aspects of the community foundation field discourse: perhaps for us in Romania we are still learning for the first time, experimenting and seeing what works.


So, can we talk about a global field of community foundations or is the U.S. field so different and distinctive that the idea of a global identity is impossible? Opinions on these may of course differ, but my view is that the commonalities are stronger than the differences, particularly if we choose to focus on the community foundations value and role in community, on their leadership capacity to engage with and shape the context and on the sheer determination to make a critical contribution to communities over the next 100 years.

On the other hand, if we look at the revenue model of more established community foundations and sheer size of assets that they have, this may appear more like science fiction to community foundations in many developing countries. Those U.S. community foundations which focus their interest on growth, numbers and the revenue model might not find many opportunities to engage with the broader global field, as business models may be quite different there. But for those interested in community engagement, passion, leadership, stories of collaboration, empowerment and change, here we are and open for dialogue!

Alina Porumb is the Community Foundations Programme Director, Association for Community Relations, Romania

MyMachine travels from Belgium to South Africa to build the machines of children’s dreams…

MyMachine has arrived in South Africa – thanks to a partnership initiated by the Community Foundation for West Flanders in Belgium and the West Coast Community Foundation who met last November at a peer learning event on community foundations and youth civic engagement, hosted by the GFCF in Cluj, Romania.

MyMachine is the very successful youth project developed by the Community Foundation West Flanders and two other Belgian which is inspired by the imaginations of primary school children. The children are encouraged to dream up their “ideal machine” and then design students are brought in to develop first the blue-prints and then, after a selection process, the machines themselves. The South African pilot is being implemented by WCCF, working in a local partnership the Cape Peninsula University in Cape Town. A MyMachine team has come to South Africa to work both with school children at a local primary school in Malmesbury to come up with their design ideas and with university students to design and produce the actual machines. Laerskook Swartland and the Swartland Municipality, with additional funding support from the Flemish government and the GFCF. Up to date news on the project can be found on the and West Coast Community Foundation pages on Facebook, along with this film from Swartlandschool in Malmesbury.



The GFCF is looking for a consultant to support its strategic development

The GFCF is looking for a consultant to support the next phase of its development as an essential piece of the infrastructure for the global community philanthropy field.

Over the last six years, the GFCF has evolved from a pilot project to a fully-fledged independent legal entity, registered in the UK and South Africa and based in Johannesburg. As a small “hub” institution serving the needs of the fast-growing and still evolving field of global community philanthropy, it has also been through an important process of learning and experimentation around its grantmaking, field-building and knowledge management strategies.

As the board and management look ahead to the GFCF’s future it will be essential to reflect on the institution’s journey as a new institution, and the learning that has been derived in order to establish a clear direction in terms of its long-term strategy and niche.

A Terms of Reference for this work can be found here. Proposals should be submitted by November 2nd 2012