This article, written by Daria Teutonico of the Council on Foundations and the GFCF’s Wendy Richardson, originally appeared on the Alliance magazine website.
1914 was a big year for big ideas. In Australia, swimming enthusiasts developed a new kind of suit – the Speedo – and sold it on the market for the first time. In the US, Woodrow Wilson signed the proclamation creating Mother’s Day, designating the second Sunday in May as a national holiday. Further south, in August of that year, the Panama Canal was officially opened linking the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Meanwhile in Ohio there was another big idea brewing, and the world’s first community foundation was born.
Cleveland-based banker and lawyer Frederick Goff had an ambitious vision to create an outfit that would pool the charitable resources of Cleveland’s philanthropists, living and dead, into a single, permanent endowment for the betterment of the city: the result was the first community foundation. A model that would eventually become known for being supportive like a Speedo, touching like Mother’s Day, and a connector of people and things, just like the Panama Canal.
One century on, one can only guess as to how proud Goff would be, should he be able to realize how far and wide his simple idea has spread, evolved and flourished. Indeed, 2014 was a year dedicated to celebrating a century of community foundation accomplishments – not only of the first, the Cleveland Foundation, but of a diverse family of organizations from around the world. The centennial offered a unique opportunity to reflect on the proud history of the growing sector, broaden public understanding, and highlight the unique roles these organizations play in improving communities; it also offered time and space for practitioners from around the world to think about how best to prepare for the next century.
As a result, the centennial year produced a wealth of resources about community foundations. A few focus on the history of the field, but the vast majority contain information, data, tools, case studies and analysis that can assist community foundation professionals in their current work and in their planning. As there is no one repository for these resources, this article provides a brief overview of what is available, where they can be found, and what information they provide.
1914 to now: celebrating a century of accomplishments
Many of the resources produced over the past year look at what has been achieved, and the lessons that can be taken, from this century of dynamic activity. As part of the centennial, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation – one of the most stalwart and long-term supporters of the field globally, providing support for almost all the resources and events mentioned in this article – launched a new microsite, Community Foundations – The Mott Foundation Experience which shares what the foundation has learned in its more than 35 years of supporting community philanthropy organizations. The site also details the growth of the sector, provides case studies from around the world, and offers a section on key lessons for working in the field.
Also a dedicated supporter of the community foundation field, the Council on Foundations organized several special initiatives over 2014, in addition to hosting the centennial conference in Cleveland in October, in order to reflect and to celebrate the sector’s milestone. The #CF100 Storytelling Project collected stories from the field which demonstrate how individual organizations are addressing critical local and regional issues, providing examples of innovative programmes and projects that may shape communities for years to come. Also seeking out great stories, the #CF100 Video Contest was run in partnership with the Knight Foundation and the Poynter Institute. Individual organizations from around the world created and submitted 100-second videos highlighting their roles in shaping their communities, and finalists were celebrated at the centennial conference in Cleveland.
In line with its mission to equip the community foundation field with tools to help advance the practice of community leadership, CFLeads released a series of publications focusing on resident engagement and best practice in this area. These were largely based on lessons gathered from their network over many years, and included: Community Foundations and Resident Engagement: Stories from the Field, offering specific examples of resident engagement projects, including how community foundations have succeeded in building understanding and support among staff, board members and donors; Powerful Partners: Lessons from Community Foundations about Resident Engagement, featuring an analysis of ten broad lessons from the CFLeads network to help inform about best practices in resident engagement; and, produced in partnership with the Aspen Institute, Resident Engagement Guidebook: Exploring Readiness and Options, which is a new tool meant to assist community foundations in assessing their readiness to deepen their resident engagement practices.
Finally, in terms of looking back and situating the sector, with the support of the Lily Family School of Philanthropy, Eleanor Sacks published the essay The Growing Importance of Community Foundations, which provides a detailed history of the origins of community foundations in the US. The research for the essay will form the basis for a forthcoming book by Sacks entitled Community Foundations in the United States: Their Origins, Growth and Development from 1914 to the Present.
2014: one century on, where are we now?
Beyond celebrating past accomplishments, several resources were produced over 2014 which provide a useful state-of-play on the global sector. An exciting development was undoubtedly the launch of the new Community Foundation Atlas, which for the first time provides detailed information about the identities, locations, assets, roles and effectiveness of the more than 1,800 community philanthropy organizations working globally. The Atlas, which was delivered in the form of an interactive website rich with qualitative and quantitative information, is the result of a two-year research effort coordinated by the Cleveland Foundation, Foundation Center, Global Fund for Community Foundations and Worldwide Initiative for Grantmaker Support (WINGS). The Atlas was created with an eye to increasing the visibility of the sector, but also with the thinking that if the world’s place-based philanthropies were better informed about the existence of counterparts in other countries and made aware of the similarities of their concerns and the distinctiveness of their approaches to community service and improvement, they could more easily learn from and support one another.
To further contribute to the centennial, in 2014 WINGS released Infrastructure in Focus: A Special Look at Organizations Serving Community Philanthropy, which provides an overview of community philanthropy infrastructure organizations, including case studies of where community philanthropy support has made a significant difference to the field. The infrastructure organizations surveyed represent more than 1,000 community foundations worldwide, and the publication provides a useful snapshot of the current situation of support bodies internationally.
2114: onwards and upwards!
With an eye to making the next 100 years even more remarkable, a number of resources produced in the centennial year looked to the future, and focused on improving interventions, operations and strategic decision making. The Monitor Institute released its What’s Next for Community Philanthropy Toolkit, which aims to assist community philanthropy organizations to think creatively about their own business models, considering how they may need to change to remain relevant. The toolkit includes specific tools and guides to use with board and staff to find new and effective ways of working. Ten overarching roles that community foundations can play in their communities are also suggested as a starting point for discussions.
Editors Terry Mazany and David Perry published a new book, Here for Good: Community Foundations and the Challenges of the 21st Century, which is a compilation of essays by leaders in the community foundation field about insights and best practices. Chapters focus on a variety of issues, including: innovation, leadership, resident engagement, community development, and the community foundation business model, among others.
Interestingly, though not necessarily organized as part of the centennial celebrations, 2014 saw two different initiatives focused solely on youth community philanthropy – perhaps an indication that moving forward this will be a key characteristic of community foundation work? In June 2014, the Council on Foundations and the Council of Michigan Foundations organized a summit on youth community philanthropy, assembling practitioners from around the globe. A subsequent report documents major themes from the summit, including inspiring approaches, trending topics and the networks needed to amplify youth community philanthropy in the future.
Additionally, the Foundation Center, in partnership with Youth Philanthropy Connect, a programme of the Frieda C Fox Family Foundation, released a report along the same lines, Scanning the Landscape of Youth Philanthropy: Observations and Recommendations for Strengthening a Growing Field, which studies the scope of existing knowledge about youth grantmaking programmes and offers recommendations for community foundations wishing to expand their youth philanthropy work in future.
Just like a Speedo
While it’s not really expected that any one individual will delve into each and every one of these reports, websites and books in-depth (though it would certainly be commendable if they did!), it seemed important to put together this repository of tools as this is more than just a list of resources that may help to connect a field and improve future interventions. Rather, collectively, these resources signal a coming of age, illustrating that this is a maturing field looking to broaden its horizons. Individual organizations are moving beyond the confines of their own community and even country and are truly taking note of what colleagues around the world are doing. Others are taking note too: 2014 also saw work kicking off around the Global Alliance for Community Philanthropy, a multi-donor collaborative engaged in joint learning activities aimed at advancing the practice of community philanthropy and influencing international development actors to better understand, support and promote community philanthropy’s role in achieving more lasting development outcomes.
How will community foundations cope with the next 100 years? Perhaps, just like a Speedo, the key will be in staying flexible: adapting to rapidly changing conditions, being supportive but not suffocating, and covering as much ground as possible with what can often be meagre resources. With helpful tools abounding to aid in this work moving forward, one can only hope that it will all go swimmingly!