Youth and community philanthropy: reflecting on the GFCF’s Youth Civic Engagement Programme

In 2010, the GFCF made its first grants under a new programme targeted at community foundations working with young people. One of the reasons behind our decision to introduce a focus on a particular issue like youth was that all the data collected over four years of grantmaking had pointed to the fact that well over half of our community foundation constituents had some kind of youth programme. What made community foundations and youth such a natural partnership, we wondered? How were community foundations engaging with young people – as donors, as partners, as decision-makers, as beneficiaries? And was there a distinct value that community foundations – and other community philanthropy institutions – brought to bear in engaging with young people which was distinct from that of other types of youth development organizations?

Well, two years on and we’ve made grants to some 30 organizations, co-hosted one global peer learning event, held two webinars and produced some resource materials too. And through our grants and our convenings we’ve begun to see some interesting results. They include some broad findings across the cohort: for example, from data collected through our grantmaking (both applications and reports) we have seen how our community foundation partners are particularly interested in engaging young people as decision-makers or leaders. And we have also seen some specific outcomes and developments which include:

–        A strong interest in YouthBank: YouthBank offers a unique way of involving young people in grant-making within their local communities and it has proved particularly popular among community foundations. A number of our YCE grant partners already have or are interested in establishing YouthBanks (or something similar).  A webinar on the subject (at which Simona Serban from Cluj Community Foundation and Vernon Ringland from Community Foundation for Northern Ireland spoke) proved very popular (and led us to produce a written resource on YouthBank, Getting to Grips with YouthBank). In September 2012, three of our grantees from Brazil, Moldova and Romania joined others in a workshop organized by the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland (which has recently received support from the Mott Foundation to establish a YouthBank Support Model).

–        Pushing new boundaries in the education sphere in South Africa: Our peer learning event in Cluj, Romania, in November 2011 also resulted in a new and exciting international collaboration between the Community Foundation for West Flanders and West Coast Community Foundation with the MyMachine piloted outside Belgium for the first time, in South Africa. The inventors, designers and builders of Scrappy, the recycling robot recently revealed their final product, the culmination of a project that brought together a primary school, a university and a community foundation to work in a partnership the likes of which had never happened in South Africa before.

–        The power of the local: The Nitra Community Foundation (Slovakia), which has been working successfully with young people for a number of years, used a grant from the GFCF to produce a film which follows the Young Nitra Philanthropists over the course of a year.

–        Meeting young people in online spaces: And in Brazil, the Florianopolis-based community foundation ICom (Instituto Comunitaria Florianoplis) has developed an online game, Conecta, which provides an opportunity for young people from all walks of life to engage in their communities. Conecta already has 200 gamers playing.

MyMachine: Scrappy the recycling robot, South Africa

Continuing the learning and sharing: SAVE THE DATE FOR OUR NEXT WEBINAR!

In 2013, the GFCF will once again pick up the youth theme. On January 23rd 2013 at 13:00 GMT, representatives from Nitra Community Foundation and ICom (see above) will be presenting their work with young people. The webinar is open to all and will be of particular interest to those working in community foundations and other community philanthropy institutions and / or working with young people. Details of how to register will be shared in early January 2013.

A global conversation about the power and the state of community philanthropy: GFCF partners meet in South Africa

What does the global community philanthropy field look like from different vantage points around the world? And how can this emerging field, which is potentially powerful but not always well understood, become better positioned as a central feature of effective development?

At the end of November 2012, we invited a group of partners from across our global constituency to reflect on this question at a two-day meeting held at a beautiful spot in the Dinokeng region, just outside Johannesburg. The group came from all over – Costa Rica, Egypt, Kenya, United States / Ecuador, Romania, Russia, Vietnam, Jordan, the U.K. and South Africa – and comprised a mixture of current and past GFCF grantees from our Asia, Youth and Environment programmes as well as other “fellow travellers” involved in different ways in building the field of community philanthropy and asset based approaches to development.

Over the course of two day – and against a backdrop of weaver birds busily weaving their nests on among the reeds outside – we discussed the current state of the community philanthropy field worldwide and how its profile, practice and collective voice might be strengthened. One theme that ran throughout the two days was that of how to move from individual struggles in different corners of the world to a more collective, sector-wide approach to field-building. Despite the different country contexts in which people were working, there was a general consensus that emerged around some key issues:

  • The global community philanthropy field is a vibrant and innovative space which is seeing rapid growth. It is highly networked and global in its reach, made up of individual institutions deeply committed to strengthening local communities from the bottom up and led by people who share a true conviction and passion. Although the field is still quite young, there is a core set of institutions now quite established and can be seen as potential sources of learning as well as a growing body of new and interesting models and approaches which can be replicated.
  • At the same time, there is a fragility to the field, with many community foundations and other institutions existing on a slim resource base (both human and financial). Several participants also described the challenge of being the only institution of their kind in a particular region or country and the sense of isolation that that can lead to. Although building up a local donor base is a key activity for many, building up trust and credibility is a slow process and sources of international donor funding for this work are limited.

While the group gathered was small and represented only a slice of the field, the global perspectives present around the table offered a sense of legitimacy to the exercise and participants felt that the views presented and issues discussed were reflective of the concerns of the wider community philanthropy field. At the end of the meeting, the group agreed to produce a joint paper, summarizing some of the key conclusions and recommendations which emerged from the meeting and aimed at inviting further discussion from the field more broadly.

The GFCF will make this discussion paper available for further inputs through our website in early 2013.

Next Door Neighbours Half Way Round the World: from Minnesota to Perm

Nancy Straw, President of the West Central Initiative in Minnesota, U.S., reports on her recent visit to a community foundations conference in Russia

As much as I enjoy travelling, why would I travel to the last city on the way to Siberia in mid-November?  Perm is 683 miles east of Moscow, the easternmost city in Europe: during Soviet times, the city was closed to foreigners, due to the munitions factories located there.  I did not go just to see a wonderful performance of the ballet “La Sylphide” and tour the museum of unique wooden religious sculptures, although they were delightful.  I was there at the invitation of CAF Russia to attend a conference for foundations and funds based in smaller communities and rural areas in Russia.

Community foundation (CF) work started in Russia in the mid-1990s, with work in more rural areas starting a few years later.  Community Foundations and Funds now exist in many areas and in a wide variety of forms.  Our discussions were centered on topics of interest to the people attending the conference and included fundraising in a rural area, types of projects funded in rural areas, working with others (including local authorities), and what to do when you have very little or no money.

All of my presentations were based on the concepts of Rural Development Philanthropy (RDP). RDP is a community-led approach, developed by a group of U.S. community foundations and community foundation hybrids, which creates locally controlled assets and invests them to strengthen rural places.

Different language, same issues

While the language is different, the issues we deal with are the same.  We have a hard time getting people to volunteer.  We work on social issues such as meeting emergency needs, alleviating poverty, caring for children and improving education.  There are cross generational programmes, environmental programmes, support for the arts and programmes for people with disabilities. We deal with outside influences that are beyond our control.  Companies downsize and we lose jobs in our communities.  Our youth leave smaller communities for more urban areas and do not return.  Incentives for new technology development and its use in cleaning up environmental concerns are supported.  Some schools no longer offer courses in the arts; only the basics of an education due to cost cutting measures.

One of the local presenters commented that government would like to stop paying for some things and rely on philanthropic money in CFs to pay for those services.  Sounds very familiar! We talked about the historic role of CFs in the U.S. and our ability to take more risks than government to try out new service models and programmes.  Once proven, we would ask the government to step in and support those successful programmes over the longer term.  While this may have worked in the past, it happens infrequently today in the U.S. as government funding levels for all services have declined.  Our colleagues in Russia are starting at a time when funding is not available for government to take over support for successful projects, so they may not have the opportunity to do the more risky pilot project work in the same way we have done it here in the past.

There were many operational similarities, too.  Competitive grant rounds with submission deadlines are common.  There are programmes offered which charge fees to help generate income for a fund or CF, and much interest in social venture fund models.  Some funds receive support that cannot be used to pay staff salaries; they deal with a lack of financial support for their organization’s infrastructure and general operations because just like in the U.S.,  some donors want every dollar to go directly to helping people in need.  Several funds have grown organically within their communities, and others have been formed with more of a “top down” approach, with community and government leaders establishing the funds.  Some funds have buildings that house their programmes and also are used for various community activities, others are provided space free of charge, and many of them rent space from others.

Rural areas and urban areas in Russia experience the same sort of tensions that we do in the U.S.  Smaller communities do not have enough human or financial resources to work only within their own community but need to partner with neighboring towns and villages.  Rural infrastructure is not kept up as well as it is in urban areas, and there were comments about roads that are in poor condition in some rural areas.  Rural communities lose their youth to more urban areas for education and more job opportunities, and communities recognize that as a major challenge to their continued viability.  The number of nonprofit organizations can be very low in rural areas, and is more concentrated in cities and urban areas

Key differences

There are some key differences between CFs in Russia and in the U.S.  Frequent changes in local government structure and local leadership can make partnering difficult.  As CFs navigate those changes, they often must deal with the perception that local government controls the funds because the roles of government and CFs are not clearly defined.  If government leaders misunderstand or disagree with work a fund is trying to do they can make things very difficult for them.  Government officials do not always understand how the funds work or the purpose of the funds, which also happens here.

When it comes to fundraising, there are many stories in Russia that tug at the heartstrings.  Programmes that benefit schools, education and children are popular.  Donors everywhere give for a variety of reasons – passion, desire to help, tax savings, or to improve their image in the community. Businesses do not like too many different organizations asking them for donations, and some businesses in Russia are anxious to donate to their local fund to help improve their image.  People are reluctant to ask others to give when they are face-to-face.  There is competition with other organizations that also raise money.

Extractive industries are numerous in Russia: gold mines, diamond mines, oil fields.  Not many of the CFs benefit from those industries unless the companies extracting the resources provide donations to them.  I did not hear of any taxes or other government plans to keep some of the wealth in the local communities after those assets are depleted, and once that wealth is gone to an urban area, it is very unlikely any of it will ever return to the rural area.  There are examples here in Minnesota that could be helpful to those communities, like the Iron Range Resources Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB) that receives financial support from taxes on mining.

Due to the extreme distances between communities in Russia, several of the funds have developed in isolation without much influence from other funds or foundations.  This provides a certain level of freedom to develop into the type of fund that is most needed in their area, and they may not be told what they are not “supposed” to do according to traditional CF work.

Learning from each other

There are many areas we could learn from and with our friends in Russia.  How can we all do a better job of telling our stories about our work?  What are the ways we can increase transparency and increase our credibility to obtain and retain the trust of our local people?  How do we decide what NOT to do when there are so many good things happening in our communities?  What can we really impact in a meaningful way with our limited human and financial resources?  How can we overcome turf issues that keep people from working together?  Are our young people receiving the right type of education to prepare them for a career?  How do we deal with the tension between environmental issues and development issues?  What are the most meaningful outcome measures and who pays to gather in information?  What techniques help to assure that your CF is not used like a bank – money in and money out – without strategy and planning?  What are the best ways to hold grant recipients accountable for the use of funds?   What are the most effective ways to engage our partners (businesses, local government, individual donors, nonprofit organizations, schools and universities)?

Working in philanthropy, no matter where it happens, we have significantly more in common than we have differences.  The human desire to help others and to make life better for those who come after us is universal and the hope inherent in our work feels the same everywhere.

While it was cold and snowing outside, the people at the conference surrounded us with a warm, welcoming atmosphere.  I hope my new friends in Russia will continue our communications and I would love to host them on a visit Minnesota.

West Central Initiative is a regional community foundation serving the nine west central Minnesota counties of Becker, Clay, Douglas, Grant, Otter Tail, Pope, Stevens, Traverse and Wilkin. WCI invests resources in our communities for regional success, using the tools of economic development and community development, and by promoting philanthropy. Learn more at

Russia’s rural philanthropy: reporting from a community foundation conference in Perm

 This article has been translated and adapted from an original piece by Matvei Masaltsev which appeared on the portal. Matvei is Chief Editor of and “Money and Charity”, both projects of CAF Russia.

How can local problems be solved with local resources? This was the question up for discussion at a recent conference of community foundations in Perm, Russia. The answer, it seems, lies with smart local giving – and not just money.

And that is exactly what community foundations across Russia are trying to do, working in their communities to mobilize people and resources.  When times are tough it can be difficult to think about helping one’s community, particularly in those rural communities across Russia which are in decline, wracked by high levels of alcoholism, poverty and often a general sense of despair.

On November 22nd and 23rd 2012, community foundation representatives gathered from all over Russia in Perm for a national conference of community foundations. They had come from all over from big cities, small towns and even small villages, and from the richest and poorest parts of Russia. No matter where one is, one can always change things for the better. It doesn’t take much money and in some cases, it takes no money at all.

Start with people!

Russian Community Foundations are less about charity and more about developing their communities. They do this by mobilizing resources from across the community – from business, government and NGOs – and by making small grants to support local citizen-led initiatives in the communities that they serve as a way of getting people more involved in addressing local problems and issues.

In Russia there are now over 40 community foundations. Over in the United States, there are several hundred which are also engaging local communities in both urban and rural areas. Nancy Straw, who also participated in the conference, is with the West Central Initiative – a hybrid community foundation serving nine counties in west-central Minnesota. Nancy summarized her organization’s work and its philosophy:

“We believe that it is the local people who are invariably best placed to both to identify local problems – and to devise solutions to these problems. They have a much greater and more long-term interest than outside agencies and institutions because they are the ones that live there. It’s our job at the West Central Initiative to support these local initiatives and ideas.”

Nancy Straw, West Central Initiative (left)The same is true among Russian community foundations. However, here it is not enough just to provide support for local ideas: community foundations really have to work to encourage people to come up with those ideas and get involved. In Russia, there is a strong culture of passivity and disengagement, and it can be a real challenge to overcome that. But sometimes the most effective methods are the simplest – like, for example, asking local people how they see their community and if they are willing to step forward and get involved.

That was what the Perm Social Initiatives Support Fund, “Assistance” did. They conducted a mapping exercise in three different districts which was aimed at identifying both key community needs (as defined by local people rather than bureaucrats) and existing local civic initiatives which could serve as entry points for action. The main conclusion of the research was that most people were indeed ready to get involved. In one village in particular, 100% of those surveyed said that they would be ready to provide some kind of assistance (material and non-material) in solving local problems. And across all seven areas surveyed, only 12% refused to do anything: the remaining 88% expressed a willingness to engage if there was a mechanism through which they could do so.

The mechanisms are there

All over Russia, there are many good examples of the different ways in which community foundations are providing different kinds of mechanisms for civic participation.

In Rubtsovsk, for example, the community foundation has established a reputation for itself as a pioneer in the art of local fundraising with its annual charitable show which starts local government officials and members of the business community. The community foundation’s annual show in Rubtsovsk

In Tchaikovsky, meanwhile (in the Perm region) the community foundation has developed an innovative partnership with the local university around the monitoring and evaluation of its social programmes.

And the New Angarsk Community Foundation (Irkutsk region) holds an annual fair where local NGOs present a range of different social projects all looking for financing from local businesses, who can “buy” a project. Such fairs have proved successful in various different cities but in Irkutsk they have been particularly effective, thanks to a rigorous project selection process and some good marketing.

These are just some of the examples of creative and innovative ideas that flew back and forth at the conference, all underlined with a strong spirit of fun and lots of energy.

Money and purpose

Mechanisms for giving are all very well but it is when it comes to the purpose or intent behind such mechanisms that things can get more complicated. Often in Russia the work of many charities often appears to stem from a sense of pity and it is pity which leads to money being raised for people one feels sorry for. But pity isn’t always the best starting point if you want to be effective, and it can often cause more problems than it solves. So, for example, orphans get sweets instead of a new family, or an unemployed person ends up dependent on benefits instead of getting a new job etc.

Among Russian community foundations it seems that real effort is being made to go beyond charity motivated by pity to something more significant and lasting, where cooperation and collaboration are emphasised. So, for example, local government and business contribute resources to a common pot, grants to community initiatives are awarded through a competitive process and decisions around their allocation are made through a joint committee. At least, that’s the idea. But even here the danger is that “shared resources” refers only to money and other assets, such as experience and expertise (of local donors) are overlooked.

In my view, the main measure of success for Russian NGOs (and indeed, among NGOs) seems to revolve too much around money. That seems to be what gets people excited, often more so than the impact on the ground. Within the specific sub-sector of community foundations, however, it does not seem so marked. Perhaps this is because community foundations are more focused on community development rather than, say, raising money for emergencies or humanitarian causes.

“Money is not your only resource and it’s not even the most important”, Vyacheslav Bakhmin of the C.S. Mott Foundation told conference participants. Similarly, in her presentation, Nancy Straw gave specific examples of how community problems can be solved without any money at all. A public meeting, for example, if properly organized and conducted can be a very effective way for community members to identify and resolve key issues.

Vyacheslav Bakhmin, Mott Foundation (right)

There are those foundations, observed Bakhmin, which are set up to do good for the local community. They can be good and effective but they can also be useless and disempowering: in either case, they are organized in ways in which ordinary people are beneficiaries, passive participants in the process. And then there are community foundations which are of the community, about which local people can say “this is ours”. They may also make mistakes, but if they can manage to engage, involve and bring local people together then that can really count for something. Indeed, in Russia today, there might be nothing else out there that is quite as valuable.


Would it be possible ….? Here and now, together locally – in Hungary! Reflections on building a community foundation in Hungary

Tamás Scsaurszki reflects on the process of establishing the Ferencváros Community Foundation, focusing on how the organization was founded and its underlying philosophy as well as some of its current challenges and hopes for the future.

Would it be possible to start a community foundation? That was the question two colleagues and I asked ourselves in early 2009.  We believed that a new organization along the lines of a community foundation might best help to address the greatest need we faced in our daily work i.e. the lack of independent grant money which did not come with strings attached – whether it was local government interference or else corporate interests.  What was really missing from the local picture was independent sources funding, which could support exploratory or unconventional activities or which address ‘uncomfortable’ issues and where decisions are taken by people with experience and knowledge rather than by state bureaucrats or corporate managers.

Tamás Scsaurszki and son

From my previous work as a programme officer at the C. S. Mott Foundation, I knew that a community foundation could potentially address this issue, as well as others, such as developing local philanthropy, strengthening social cohesion and mobilising people to shape their communities and lives through their own actions.

We were also aware that several failed attempts to establish community foundations in Hungary over the last 20 years had cast a negative light on new efforts. ‘It’s a good idea, but it won’t work here,’ we heard from many people.  The foreign aid programmes and private foundations (and most importantly the C. S. Mott Foundation, which played a crucial role in the start-up and development of community foundations in all other countries of the region) have long gone from Hungary.

The start

Having played with the idea for months, we decided to

–           Work in one particular community (and not nationally) and we chose the community where we live, Ferencváros, the 9th district of Budapest;

–           Start without funding so that we would have the freedom to design and implement the work the way we thought was the best. In the course of our work we did find some funds that provided us the necessary flexibility. As a result we raised €32,000 for some of the preparatory work for the period of June 2009 to May 2011;

–           Ask two foreign friends with relevant expertise, Alina Porumb from the Association for Community Relations in Romania and Boris Strečanský from the Center for Philanthropy in Slovakia, to help.

As a first practical step, we conducted about 60 face-to-face interviews with a wide variety of people from the district to find out a) how they felt about our community/district; and b) what they thought about the community foundation concept.  Most people interviewed expressed a great deal of affection and care for our community, but to our disappointment they had almost nothing to say about the community foundation concept.  We produced a very nice, easy-to-understand brochure about community foundations, sent it to people before the interview, and all people commented was that ‘it was a very beautiful publication’.

The cover of our ‘beautiful’, but little-read brochure

On the other hand, we were extremely happy to find that the environment and the community were conducive to a community foundation and, more importantly, our group of 3 was extended by 10 more people, whose main motivation in joining us was to do something for the district’s community (only later did they develop an interest in exactly how the concept would become reality).

In the autumn of 2010 the group agreed to call itself the Organising Group for the Ferencváros Community Foundation.  Members of the group included owners of local SMEs (small and medium enterprises), people working for big companies based in the district, NGO and community activists, an artist and a director of a local government-owned company.  The Organising Group met every other week and its work had two major directions: a) to plan and implement activities promoting the concept and our work in the community (e.g. holding an international conference, organising a football cup for district schools connected with promoting local philanthropy); and b) to prepare the registration and future programmes of the organisation.

As the work became more serious and started to show results, bringing satisfaction and fun for the group, we captured the most important rules of co-operation among members to lay the basis of an enabling organisational culture.  When the Ferencváros Community Foundation (FCF) was registered on the 30th of December 2011, members of the Organising Group became trustees and we felt that we knew each other fairly well and had a good idea of what we wanted to do.

The community and the foundation

Ferencváros is a central district of Budapest.  It is a large and mixed community, located along one side of the Danube.  Historically it has been home to aristocrats, intellectuals, artisans and labourers, and became an attractive place for workers from the countryside to settle. Since the political changes in 1989, some parts of the district have benefited from extensive urban regeneration programmes while other parts have fallen prey to deep poverty.  It is home to the Central Market, the National Theatre, the Palace of Arts, several university buildings, as well as numerous galleries and restaurants which have helped to make parts of the district popular with tourists. The district became the base for a number of international and Hungarian companies, and it also has a thriving SME community.  Currently around 55 thousand people live in the district.  It is a very diverse population, and recent years have seen growing inequality and stresses in terms of education, housing and employment.

When the community foundation started its work we had to find a healthy balance between responding to the needs and expectations of the community and the long-term requirement of building an organisation, a vehicle for present and future work. Due to the lack of outside support we also had to raise funds locally for both programmes and organisational development at the same time.

The community foundation has two sides to its work. The first involves raising funds for grant-making and operational expenses.  FCF raises money only from individuals and companies ‘attached’ to the district and it does not apply for (local) government grants or contracts.  The other side to the foundations work involves a range of goals, including promoting the concept and practice of local philanthropy, raising the self-esteem of the district’s community, highlighting specific issues and last, but not least, increasing the visibility of FCF.  To this end, we created a special fund for a very active informal group so that they can take advantage of the community foundation’s legal entity when raising funds.  In addition, we organised a football cup for the district’s elementary schools combined with raising funds for the schools’ development, as well as run a Christmas campaign in December 2012.

Poster for FCF’s Christmas Campaign In addition, in 2012 the trustees put a lot of work into establishing the basic infrastructure of the community foundation (website, office, etc.) and promoting FCF in the district through events and face-to-face meetings.  Three days have special importance for us: the summer trustee retreat held in late June to discuss issues of strategic importance [picture no. 2.], a year-end meeting with FCF’s friends, supporters, current and potential partners to talk about the passing year’s work and plans for the future, and an informal Christmas gathering only for trustees and their families to close the year’s work.

As for the ‘hard facts’: the foundation’s endowment fund was €700 ($900), put together by the trustees and community foundation activists from neighbouring countries.  In 2012, we raised approximately €4,500 ($5,800) out of which we spent €1,650 ($2,128) on grants, €1,800 ($2,322) on programmatic expenses, and the remaining €1,050 ($1,354) is on our bank account.  About two-thirds of our income came from individuals, the rest from local SMEs.  The local media has featured our work ten times during the year of 2012, including a few longer newspaper and television interviews.


If the preceding description felt like an easy journey it is not without reason:  we do approach our challenges with a strong ‘can-do’ attitude and we like to have a good laugh when we are in a difficult or awkward situation. But we do have serious challenges.

Trustees during the summer retreat in June 2012

We started the community foundation during the worst economic crisis since the political changes in 1989. Uncertainty in the financial climate, weakening business activity, rising unemployment, increasing living costs, are all pushing people and companies into ‘survival’ mode and reducing the energy for philanthropy and care for others.

So far FCF has failed to attract major donors and donations. Having a few major donors would have helped its start tremendously: they would have enabled it to make more grants, made it more visible, etc. But we find it difficult to convince any of the major companies to support a new organisation. More importantly, our voice is not strong enough to influence them to look at our district, where their headquarters are based, in a special way. When talking about major donors we also mean wealthy individuals: we are yet to discover and approach them!

Without in-country experts, a support organisation at the national level, and the possibility of participating in most international programmes, FCF often times feels like an isolated organisation compared with its cousins in neighbouring countries. What we miss the most is not money, but a regular and good chat about our work and developments in the field of community foundations with people who understand.

Position in the global community foundation field

It feels useful for others and ourselves to position FCF in relation to some of the most commonly used “landmarks” of the community foundation field, to state what we are and what we are not.

FCF started as a trustee-led organisation and we are committed to continue this way.  In addition to taking all important decisions, which is required by law, it also means that trustees are informed, feel a strong ownership over the organisations and do a significant amount of volunteer work on a regular basis as we do not have any paid employees.  This ensures FCF’s rootedness in the community and resilience vis-à-vis challenges.  The community foundation is meant to be a platform where people from all walks of life feel comfortable to work for a defined common purpose.

We regard the community foundation as a mechanism providing opportunities to people to participate with their own resources in the development of their community: donors with their cash, others with their ideas, time, volunteer work, etc. therefore we expect our partners, even our donors, to be active.  It is very important for us to connect the different groups of people with whom we work (e.g. donors with grantees, businesses with local residents) with each other, since we believe that these personal encounters hold the opportunities to create a more cohesive, stronger community.

The primary tool to attain our goal is the development of local, private (non-state) philanthropy: on one hand, we would like to encourage and enable individuals and businesses to give (so we are not interested in channelling big amounts of foreign or national funds into our community to implement projects) while we wish to inspire others to act as an expression of ‘loving their fellow men’ (therefore we see FCF as an organisation supporting people).  We see practising philanthropy a lot more than a rational exchange of money (or other resources) for clear conscience, fame or media attention.  With philanthropy one can achieve things that cannot be achieved in any other way.

We are not engaged in any of the major issues of social justice, inclusion, participation, etc. affecting our community, but we are hoping to start working on them when our institution becomes strong enough and we find the right point of entry for us.

To find out more about the Ferencváros Community Foundation, please send an email to Tamás Scsaurszki

Support organizations offer great roadmap for community foundation field

This is the latest in an occasional series by the Mott Foundation about the community foundation field and the Mott Foundation’s role in supporting and strengthening it. The series reports on what is occurring in Mott’s major geographic focus areas — Central/Eastern Europe and Russia, South Africa, and the U.S. — as well as providing information about how the field is expanding globally. Mott’s goal is to inform the public about the latest trends in the community foundation field in advance of its 100th anniversary year in 2014.

Felecia Jones is quick to express appreciation for the support organizations in her professional field. Without them, she says, it would be difficult for staff at the Black Belt Community Foundation to tap the expertise and experiences of a variety of grantmakers around the country — and even the world.

“Our work would only mirror that of the other foundations located near us; those we had direct access to,” said Jones, executive director of the Selma, Alabama-based community foundation named for the region’s rich, black topsoil.

Fortunately — through interactions with the Global Fund for Community Foundations (GFCF), the Community Foundation Leadership Team of the Council on Foundation (COF), and the Southeastern Council of Foundations (SECF) — she has met other leaders in the field, shared ideas, and learned from them, Jones says.

Felecia Jones, BBCF, with Hafiz Jamu from Mozambique, Nairobi


Today, there are community foundation support organizations on six continents. While support organizations use a variety of names — associations, councils, federations, forums, networks, partnerships, etc. — they share similar characteristics.
Community foundation support organizations:

  • promote and professionalize the field locally, nationally and globally;
  • develop, collect and distribute resource materials for the field;
  • provide peer-to-peer networking and learning opportunities through conferences, workshops, study visits, electronic and social media channels; and
  • advocate for an environment that is fiscally and legally supportive for the field.

Many of these organizations receive support through the Mott Foundation’s Civil Society program, which has as its mission to: “strengthen philanthropy and the nonprofit sector as vital vehicles for increasing civic engagement and improving communities and societies.”

By providing services for community foundations as a field, support organizations — whether statewide, regional, national or global — offer opportunities that likely wouldn’t be available or affordable for individual institutions, Jones says.

Had it not been for serving on a panel together at a workshop planned by a support organization, Jones says, she never would have met Janet Naumi Mawiyoo. She is chief executive officer of the Kenya Community Development Foundation, which receives Mott support for its continentwide Africa Grantmakers Network.


The Grand Rapids Community Foundation commissioned Ed Wong-Ligda to create this mural called “Community Garden.”

“Even though Janet is in Nairobi and I am in Selma, my grantmaking story is more similar to hers than that of some other community foundations in the U.S. because of the types of poor and rural communities in which we work,” Jones said. “We have a whole lot in common and can share with each other what works and what doesn’t. I cherish our relationship.”

The three community foundation support organizations that Jones is affiliated with are but a few of the dozens that exist. Individually and collectively, these organizations — such as SECF, which serves 11 states — strengthen and unify the community foundation field at home and around the world. These organizations also make it possible for small-staffed community foundations to share professional services and reduce their operating costs.

The Council of Michigan Foundations (CMF) was created in 1972 and serves more than 350 foundations in Michigan today, including community foundations. It has received $8.4 million in Mott support since 1976. CMF is praised for helping cut expenses almost 50 percent collectively for many smaller community foundations in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula by combining back-end office duties such as accounting, data processing, etc.

Spending less on overhead makes more money available to meet community needs, says Diana R. Sieger, president of the Grand Rapids Community Foundation (GFCF).

Established in 1922 as the first community foundation in the state, GRCF has assets of $250 million and a 2012 grantmaking budget of $11 million. Sieger, who also is a member of COF’s board of directors and a past chairperson of CMF, says she has experienced the value of support organizations firsthand. She cited CMF’s statewide branding initiative in the late 1990s and early 2000 as an example.

After community foundations throughout Michigan started using the same tagline: “For good. For ever.,” the field gained a unified identity, she says, and individual institutions noticed a substantial increase in the way residents took ownership for “their” local foundation. The campaign was so effective, Sieger says, it went national and had similar success because residents in other states started identifying and connecting with their local community foundation in ways they hadn’t before.

The first formal community foundation support organization in the U.S. was created in 1949 and evolved into COF. Today, it serves as a membership association for a variety of foundation types — community, corporate, family, private and independent. COF, based in Arlington, Va., provides targeted services for the nation’s approximate 740 community foundations through its Community Foundation Services program. COF is a longtime Mott grantee and has received $11.7 million in Mott support since 1967.

Support organizations working outside the U.S., including those in post-Soviet countries in Central/Eastern Europe, are also Mott grantees. Many specifically serve community foundations; others serve several types of foundations.

Such organizations have advocated effectively for national tax law changes. For example, in addition to securing tax incentives for citizens who donate to nonprofit groups, support organizations in Bulgaria, and elsewhere, were successful in their efforts to eliminate taxes on contributions made by cell phone text messages. This is a popular way to donate throughout the region, especially following natural disasters. The end result is more money going straight to the causes, leaders say.

Meanwhile, in Western Europe, the London-based Community Foundation Network (CFN) also seeks ways to increase the amount of funds directed to local grantmakers from individuals, corporations and government. The national membership association serves 55 community foundations that cover all of Northern Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales. The network’s partnership with the United Kingdom’s Office for Civil Society is both practical and strategic, says Stephen Hammersley, CFN’s chief executive.

Stephen Hammersly, Community Foundation Network, UKThe network, which works to highlight and expand giving initiatives United Kingdom-wide, recently helped community foundations collectively secure more than $200 million (£130 million) in government funds through a $75-million endowment challenge that matched money raised from private sources and a $125-million government-funded grassroots grants program. The result was pots of money for many communities so they can address today’s needs and also those in the future, Hammersley says.

Globally, where there are community foundation support organizations — Australia, Bulgaria, Canada, Czech Republic, Germany, Mexico, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom, Ukraine, the U.S. and elsewhere — there is growth in the field. In fact, having support organizations present is “the best predictor of new growth” in the community foundation field, according to research collected for the WINGS 2010 Global Status Report on Community Foundations, says Barry Knight, executive director of CENTRIS (The Centre for Research and Innovation in Social Policy Ltd) in the United Kingdom. He is an adviser for the South Africa-based GFCF, which is an international support organization, grassroots grantmaker and Mott grantee. Knight also has authored and collaborated on many reports, including the 2012 publication, The Value of Community Philanthropy, which was funded primarily by Mott and the Aga Khan Foundation USA.

With the growth of community foundations worldwide, he says, there has come a drive for standardization, which is often undertaken or overseen by support organizations. For example, in Germany, the United Kingdom, the U.S. and elsewhere, the community foundation field has created certifications akin to seals of approval. This recognition is earned after organizations meet standards in specific areas, such as governance structure, resource development, stewardship and accountability, grantmaking, community leadership, donor relations, and communications.

Having national standards is necessary and often a point of pride for individual community foundations and their donors, says Sieger of Grand Rapids.

“Standards give assurances that funds are not being distributed by someone sitting in a room saying, ‘I like this organization, but I don’t like that one. This one gets money, but that one doesn’t,’” Sieger said. “Standards show citizens that community foundations are addressing key community needs, which were identified in an unbiased way.”

The availability of national standards also has meant newer community foundations did not need to reinvent the wheel, says Jones of Alabama.

“Support organizations gave us a great roadmap for how to create a community foundation the right way from the very start,” she said. “If they hadn’t worked with the field to develop national standards for us to follow, the staff here at the Black Belt Community Foundation would have been getting a lot of things wrong these past eight years.”

For more information on the Mott Foundation visit their website at

Woods, trees and the rise of African philanthropy

In the early 1990s, I spent a year living and working in Uganda. One day I was with some friends driving back from a trip to one of Uganda’s beautiful game parks. It was late afternoon and not long before darkness would set in. We decided to pitch our tents by the side of the long and sparsely populated road rather than drive on to the nearest town. As we started to unpack tents, stoves, pots and pans, a small group of people emerged, apparently out of nowhere. They watched us, intrigued and probably rather baffled by all our camping gear: we exchanged greetings and one of them told us that they had been sent by the village elders to find out who we were and what we were doing. We were, it turned out, camping on land belonging to their community and so their interest was only natural. On our part, we were somewhat embarrassed by our assumption that our camp site was an empty spot in the middle of nowhere, when in fact it turned out that we pitching our tents in the middle of a community, with its own members, leaders, systems and dynamics. Just because all of this wasn’t immediately visible to us in terms of name signs and bill boards, didn’t mean it wasn’t there.

I have often been reminded of that experience over the last 15 or so years I have spent working to build the field of building local philanthropy in different parts of the world, and nowhere more so than in Africa. I am occasionally asked, “How many community foundations are there in the Africa?” Well, if you count the institutions that call themselves ‘community foundations’ there are about 12, and if you applied the precise definition used by the U.S. Council on Foundations (“tax-exempt public charities serving thousands of people who share a common interest—improving the quality of life in their area. Individuals, families, businesses, and organizations create permanent charitable funds that help their region meet local challenges”) then you’d probably come up with fewer than that. On a continent made up of 54 countries, these figures can start to look rather insignificant, the map rather empty.

But if you ask some different questions – about the organized systems of grassroots giving and solidarity in Africa that have existed for generations, for example, or about the emergence of new and different institutionalized philanthropic forms over recent years, including women’s funds, local multi-stakeholder-type foundations, regional and national grantmakers as well as community foundations and community development foundations – the landscape suddenly looks quite different. Suddenly those 12 community foundations no longer look so isolated and inconsequential. Instead they can be seen as some of the more visible structures in an environment which is much richer and more complex.

While taxonomies in philanthropy are certainly important in helping to define and bring clarity to some of the different “families” of institutions and practice that make up the field – and in contexts like the United States and the United Kingdom, these definitions can have serious legal and tax implications which cannot be ignored – one can’t help wondering whether sometimes they also prevent us from seeing what is right in front of our eyes.  By being overly simplistic in our search for clarity, do we in fact end up being unable to see the woods for the trees and become blind to whatever doesn’t fit into our neat definitional categories?

In our new report, A Different Kind of Wealth: a baseline of African community foundations, Barry Knight and I have attempted to lay a baseline for the African community foundation field (in all its diversity) and to contribute towards a new African narrative which derives from both within and outside the continent. So yes, the U.S. community foundation story, whose origins date back to 1914 and the creation of the Cleveland Foundation, is one part of this narrative, but so is the role of international development aid. And within Africa, the continent’s rich traditions of giving and mutual support are also important but so are the failures of governance, and particularly of governments.

We have sought to begin to tell an important story about a new generation of local philanthropic institutions which is emerging in Africa, some seeded with money from outside the continent, others entirely home‑grown – and all seeking to draw on local resources and tap into different forms of wealth, which include cash and property but also include other, less tangible, forms of social capital such as trust and credibility.

Although the cluster may not be uniform in terms of the labels different organizations use to describe themselves (it includes those that might call themselves community grantmakers, community development foundations, women’s funds before they call themselves community foundations) they all share a commonality of “essence” around the importance of assets, agency and trust in driving a form of development which is “people-led”. It is in this context – where a strong community is one in which there are high levels of trust, which has access to resources and assets and where there are strong local capacities for organizing  – that the term “community foundation” really comes into its own as a force for transformation in the African context. Its connotations of local ownership of assets (both for and of the community) and of permanence (so not just another NGO running another 3-year project) go far beyond any legalistic definition.

Many of the issues we raise in our report – around the nature and potential of African philanthropy – were up for discussion at the recent  conference of the African Grantmakers Network in Johannesburg, South Africa which was an inspiring and energising event and evidence of a vibrant and expanding African philanthropic sector on the move. One of the highlights of the event (and there were many) was the appearance of Graҫa Machel, a leading African stateswoman, the wife of Nelson Mandela and the founder of the Community Development Foundation in Mozambique (another one of those institutions that doesn’t quite fit into a neat category). Mrs Machel, who is in her late sixties, had just arrived back in Johannesburg off an overnight flight and came straight to the conference. She spoke forcefully and without notes about her vision of African philanthropy, emphasising the need for a new African narrative, highlighting the distinct nature of African philanthropy which goes beyond money to encompass solidarity and empathy, and emphasising its potential significance in driving the continent’s development.  Relying on external resources can only ever take one so far: after all, she warned the conference in closing, “Your neighbour’s granary will never fill your stomach.”

Jenny Hodgson is the executive director of the Global Fund for Community Foundations: a version of this blog first appeared on RE:Philanthropy, the Council on Foundations’ blog page.