Community philanthropy chimes with SDGs

SDG 6: Indian women use micro-loans to support herbal medicine practiceThe Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have arrived after years of dialogue. Where the earlier Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were formulated in United Nations offices – one was even added as policymakers crossed the road – the long, global consultation process for developing the SDGs has raised expectations for community participation across the world.

The so-called SDG “Road to Dignity” now faces its real test – the potholes of universal implementation in an increasingly unsettled world. CIVICUS Secretary General, Danny Sriskandarajah, recognized the challenges ahead in his introduction to the 2015 State of Civil Society report. He said: “As the world debates the post-2015 agenda the SDGs are the next big test of the international system. The international community needs to show commitment to tackling inequality, and create space for civil society, as a co-owner of the goals, rather than a delivery mechanism for elite priorities.”

In short, effective implementation of the goals needs local hands to transform aspiration into reality. People-centred development matters if the goals are to have any purchase in the favelas of Latin America or the rural hamlets of Nepal. The Global Fund for Community Foundations has gathered case studies from all over the world to show how communities, pooling resources and talent, can implement the goals. The case studies also demonstrate lessons for foundations seeking to contribute meaningfully to the SDGs. These include:

  • Social change needs to incorporate local voice, particularly of affected populations, to inform policy.
  • Change is a slow process leading to an outcome rather than a short-term project delivering outputs.
  • Community philanthropy organizations can act as support and knowledge hubs to invest in and share learning from activities related to SDGs.

Read the full article, with examples of how the work of community philanthropy organizations around the world fit with five of the SDGs.

Sri Lanka to South Africa: Reflections on my community philanthropy study visit

I joined the Neelan Tiruchelvam Trust (NTT) in February 2015 as I was keen to work with grassroots initiatives in Sri Lanka. After working with the Trust for four months, I was offered this spectacular opportunity to meet with organizations and activists in South Africa that do similar types of work as NTT. The visit was organized by the GFCF and though I am not new to the subject of community development, community philanthropy is a new area for me. This is a subject that did not cross my path in my academic or career experience before. I equipped myself for this study visit with background reading about South Africa and some studies/research done on the subject of community philanthropy. Despite this groundwork, it was a surprising experience to see how “real” community philanthropy can be!

I was able to understand more about community philanthropy with every conversation I had. I heard many powerful stories of community philanthropy initiatives from the GFCF and learned about its support for such initiatives. In fact it surprised me when I understood how broad community philanthropy can be and how practical it is when I met with the Community Development Foundation Western Cape. They have creatively used seed funding from the GFCF to inspire community contributions for a small-scale environmental project, thus community “giving” is extensively defined. Witnessing and understanding the well-established systems in place for community philanthropy initiatives such as YouthBank and other community projects at the West Coast Community Foundation was equally impressive and inspiring. Meetings with other individuals broadened my definition of community philanthropy, as I heard about relevant academic research, and heard numerous simple and practical examples of the field in action.  Gayathri Gamage (C) with Beulah Fredericks of CDF Western Cape (L)

Inspired to be an advocator for community philanthropy, I plan (in fact have already started) to prepare the findings of this study visit as a paper, along with a step-by-step practical plan, that can be used by NTT and other grassroots initiatives in Sri Lanka, looking to add a community philanthropy lens to their work. This will not only help to contextualize my learning from this study visit, but will also allow us to introduce a new, strategic approach to development that empowers communities to make decisions about their own future. The importance of such a community-driven approach will also be examined through building an evidence-base around the work, which will be achieved through surveying our partners on the ground. I plan to continue updating this paper like a journal, adding the findings and good (replicable) practices of community philanthropy as I grow in this area of work. I found the materials developed by GFCF for community philanthropic organizations to be very helpful and believe they can be contextualized for replication in preparing the above plan.

I think that opportunities like this study visit broaden horizons and make us reflect. It helps one to understand the bigger picture, and to put into perspective what they do in their small communities / or in their countries. Engaging in discussions with colleagues doing similar types of work has helped me gain more confidence in my own work, and how I can best contribute to society. Hearing success and failure stories has especially motivated me to look for more innovative approaches to implement in my country. We should all take these opportunities to learn, share and reflect on our work: it is like this, I believe, that the case will really be made for community philanthropy, and the sector will continue to grow.

By: Gayathri Gamage, Programme Officer, Neelan Tiruchelvam Trust

From bad to just right: Why is it so hard for bilaterals to support community philanthropy?

In a few weeks’ time, the GFCF will be inviting UK-based NGOs and development agencies to join a discussion in London about community philanthropy. We will be exploring two questions in particular: “How can community philanthropy contribute to development?” and “What can development do to support community philanthropy?”

The fact is that the notion of “community philanthropy” is not well established – or even well-known – within the mainstream development discourse. For the most part, it has been private foundations such as the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation and the Ford Foundation, among others, that have supported the development of local foundations, often in the context of larger programmes focused on strengthening the infrastructure for local philanthropy and civil society. Beyond this small cluster of private foundations, the idea of strengthening community philanthropy as a strategy for building local assets, capacities and trust, or for enhancing transparency, accountability and good governance has limited currency.

But is change on the cards? In recent years, the mutterings of dissent against the international aid system – particularly the role of bilateral and multilateral aid agencies – have grown to become an increasingly audible rumble. And what is particularly interesting is that these critiques of current aid conventions, while they come from very different places, are often saying the same thing. Take these two comments:

“Projects composed of short-term injections of money for too specific a cause have proven to rarely lead to maintainable opportunities for the supposed beneficiaries….Instead of targeting isolated problems for specific time periods, a more holistic approach must become an ambition.”

“[The] projectized approach to capacity building, and to aid in general, rarely leads to sustainable outcomes in part because it treats partners as “implementers” and skews local resources toward donor-identified priorities…As a result….[an] organization itself may be actually weakened in its ability to respond to local needs and distracted or diverted from its core activities.”

The first is from a speech given by Sibongile Mkhabela, CEO of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund in South Africa, a strong advocate for the importance of a robust African philanthropy sector. The second is from an excellent set of articles published recently on Devex by Diana Ohlbaum which offer a critique of USAID in particular, as well as some thoughts on how it could do business differently. Ohlbaum is an independent consultant, and previously was a senior professional staff member of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and a deputy director of USAID‘s Office of Transition Initiatives. Two voices from very different parts of the development space but their messages are strikingly similar.

When it comes to how big donor agencies engage with community philanthropy, whose proponents see as offering solutions and strategies for overcoming the short-term nature of development aid and in strengthening civil society so that it more locally owned, the experiences are varied. What is clear is that the term “community philanthropy” barely features in the discourse of large donor institutions. (Perhaps, at some level, it is a matter of language. Also the fact that the term philanthropy – and the “baggage” it sometimes brings of charitable acts by the wealthy that reinforce the status quo – has never really sat comfortably within the language of mainstream development. An important conversation for another day!)

In recent weeks, through different meetings in the course of my day-to-day work as well as conversations with partners on the specific issue of support from bilateral and multilateral aid agencies, I have arrived at the conclusion that the experiences where community philanthropy and development meet fall into three main categories.


1. Missing the picture altogether: Undermining community philanthropy

First, the worst experience. (Names and organizations withheld here to save on awkwardness all round). Here, an international donor institution was delighted to find a local organization that knew its community, had great connections (largely established through an intensive and sensitively crafted grassroots grantmaking programme) and that could even complete their complicated application forms in English.

The short version of this failed adventure goes something like this:

  • The donor (let’s call it B) had strong programme interests and wasn’t interested in the work of the local organization (A). Instead, B wanted A to adapt to its own agenda once the grant was awarded, which pushed A far beyond its own focus and areas of expertise – not to mention comfort zone.
  • Then there was the issue of “capacity building.” Rather than this being an overall interest in the long-term well-being of A, this was really capacity building so that A could complete B’s very complicated reporting forms.
  • The funding itself didn’t arrive when it was expected so A was left with staff hired and ready to work but with no money to pay them, a very stressful situation for an organization with no reserves to tide them over. (Something for which the professed sympathy from B’s staff – who were meanwhile receiving their salaries as usual – fell a bit flat with A).
  • A faced enormous constraints in implementing the programme because every activity and outcome had needed to be determined well in advance. This left very little wiggle room for A to be able to take its usual responsive and flexible approach, essential in the complex and unpredictable environment in which it was operating.

The list goes on. But perhaps the most important point here is that B had no interest in what A brought to the table in terms of its previous work – the level of trust, the efforts to which it was going to start a conversation about local resources and local agency, etc. In short, B was not interested in A’s strengths as a community philanthropy organization. All it saw was a “project implementer” and, in taking such a short-sighted view, it pushed A into an impossible situation which left it highly vulnerable – both in terms of basic cash flow but also in terms of its reputation with the local community.


2. The half-view: Supporting certain aspects of community philanthropy

If you were to ask a donor such as DFID (The Department for International Development of the UK Government) whether they support community philanthropy, the answer would most likely be a “No.” However, if you were to ask DFID if they had ever been involved in establishing a foundation then the answer might be a “Yes.” And if you were to ask them if they had ever been involved in supporting the creation of a YouthBank – something of a signature piece of the global community philanthropy field then, you might also be surprised to hear another resounding “Yes.” That is currently the case in Mozambique, where DFID funding has supported the MICAIA Foundation to establish the first youth-led grassroots grantmaking programme in the Chimoio District. Also, part of MICAIA’s plans from the start has been the idea of establishing a long-term community fund for youth development which can draw on local as well as external resources. The feasibility study for this has also been part of the project that DFID is supporting.

MICAIA’S YouthBank participants

Pulling together these pieces, it sounds as though DFID is in fact supporting community philanthropy: perhaps it is just a matter of different organizations using different language and terminology. Almost, but not quite. It is indeed a positive thing that MICAIA’s complex and ambitious work in Mozambique, targeting young people who have often felt excluded from their own development, is being supported by DFID. But, as anyone who has ever set up a community grantmaking programme of the kind that targets small amounts of money to groups that have never encountered anything of the kind before, this is often labour-intensive, unpredictable work. It takes time to build trust and to create the conditions for local groups to be ready to receive and deploy resources in the most effective way and a “cushion” of flexible funding can be a godsend.

Of course, bilateral donors can’t usually behave like private foundations: they don’t have the same degree of flexibility and can face multiple internal constraints in terms of accountability, programme and funding structures. Looking forward, then perhaps the key is leverage, with more funding partnerships between different kinds of donors where each can play to their relative strengths. But for that to happen there needs to be much more conversation and exchange about how different funding organizations see the world and their role (and its limits) in bringing about change. Let’s hope our meeting in May can be one place to advance this conversation.


3. Seeing the full picture: Proactively supporting community philanthropy

Finally, there are the instances where bilateral donors have been able to embrace what might be seen to be a broader community philanthropy development agenda (even if that is not the particular terminology that is applied). Last week, I joined a roundtable discussion on community philanthropy in Ho Chi Minh City, hosted by the LIN Center for Community Development. The GFCF has partnered with LIN over a number of years, providing small grants aimed at stimulating local giving (matching funding), for research, peer exchange visits and overall institutional development. In turn, LIN has been an important and generous source of learning and sharing for other community philanthropy organizations. At the meeting was a representative of Irish Aid. And guess what? Irish Aid has also been providing small grants (including matching funding), as well as opportunities to learn and share more broadly within the region (in fact, a group from Laos was just coming to the end of a week’s study tour, funded by Irish Aid). Like the GFCF, it has also regarded strengthening LIN as a key priority, above and beyond its ability just to deliver programmes.

March 2015 Roundtable at LIN Center, Vietnam

So it’s not all bad news, but there is definitely something that needs to be done about better communication between different kinds of donors, a more intentional “laying out of wares” when it comes to what each can offer, and a more rigorous deconstruction of language so that where there are synergies, they can be arrived at more easily. Platforms such as the Global Alliance for Community Philanthropy, which brings together a set of different kinds of donors (including, interestingly enough, USAID), offers an excellent starting point for this kind of thoughtful interaction.

I wanted to share a final thought that came out of one of the conversations that resulted in this blog. We were discussing the aid industry’s preoccupation with the “end user”, to the extent that virtually everything between the cheque leaving their account and the end user is just a link in a production chain, a cost that needs to be accounted for. If community philanthropy organizations can be repositories and stewards of social and financial capital, of trust across and between communities, models of good governance and horizontal accountability, then how about rethinking a category of “end user” which includes such institutions as a good in themselves – not a conduit or a mechanism but something that local people care about, own, give to and turn to in times of need?


Jenny Hodgson

GFCF Executive Director 

Mott Foundation launches new community foundation microsite, sharing lessons and insights from 35 years of funding

To mark the centennial celebrations of the first community foundation established in the US, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation has launched a new microsite,, to share what they have learned over their more than 35 years supporting the field. The site offers key insights and highlights the foundation’s legacy of partnering with community foundations.

The Mott Foundation has bene a stalwart supporter of the field since the 1970’s, focusing its work around providing direct support to individual institutions, training global leaders, and developing a global network. Building local philanthropy has been a central part of the foundation’s strategy since its founding and the community foundation form continues to spread around the world as it helps ordinary citizens exercise their charitable impulse and, as Mott Foundation President and CEO William S. White notes in the site’s introductory video, the field keeps growing simply because “it makes so much sense.”

Visit the new Mott Foundation microsite

Rules to Give By: A global campaign for a culture of philanthropy

“Rules to Give By: A Global Philanthropy Legal Environment Index” is the world’s first study on government support for philanthropy in all 193 United Nations Member States. It offers an index of countries’ performance based on the regulatory and tax conditions associated with philanthropy, and investigates the relationship between the presence of such infrastructure and the percentage of people donating money to charity according to the 2013 World Giving Index. The study is an initiative of the Nexus Global Youth Summit. 

Visit the online Index

A Snapshot of the Global Community Philanthropy Field: new GFCF report brings together data from its grantmaking and from the Community Foundation Atlas to highlight how community foundations are building assets, capacities, trust

Together, assets, capacities and trust form the backbone of strong, effective community philanthropy organizations and it is these three features that distinguish them from other parts of civil society. So says a new report launched recently by the GFCF. The report draws on data to the Community Foundation Atlas (unveiled in Cleveland at the Council on Foundations Fall Community Foundation Conference in October) from 110 community foundations in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and Central and Eastern Europe, as well as insights accrued from the GFCF’s own grantmaking to community philanthropy organizations in over 50 countries.

In three separate sections, the report shows how community foundations are building Assets, Capacities and Trust in their communities and what that looks like in a variety of different contexts, short case studies from Russia, China, Vietnam, Costa Rica and Kenya among others. This framework emerged out of a series of consultations conducted by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation and the Aga Khan Foundation, in conjunction with the GFCF, as part of the planning process for the Global Alliance for Community Philanthropy, as well as from indicators used by the GFCF in its grantmaking.

The report provides a first foray into the substantial data set accumulated through the Atlas project and the GFCF looks forward to engaging in additional studies – whether on specific geographic regions or on particular issues – drawing from the Atlas and other data sources.

Read the report

Call for expression of interest in commissioned research for GFCF

GFCF wishes to commission research studies in the following areas:

(i) Report on the status of community-based philanthropy in Latin America and the Caribbean

This study will compile a comprehensive list of grantmaking foundations (and philanthropic organisations with the active objective of being grant-makers) that are located, and are working to address needs at the community level, in the respective countries of Latin America and the Caribbean. In addition, the research will collect qualitative data through telephonic interviews with a sub-set of short listed foundations (to be agreed with GFCF) to gain an in-depth understanding of the context in which they work; the nature of their grantmaking and related programmes; the size and structure of their foundation; the nature of their donor base; and any strategic approaches or stories they would like to share with their peers to make the case for community philanthropy.

It is envisaged that the commissioned research will be available in draft form for review by 16th December 2014, to be available as a final report by 31st January 2015.

(ii) Report on the status of community-based philanthropy in Central Asia/Central South Asia

This study will compile a comprehensive list of grantmaking foundations (and philanthropic organisations with the active objective of being grant-makers) that are located, and are working to address needs at the community level, in the respective countries of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. In addition, the research will collect qualitative data with a sub-set of short-listed foundations (to be agreed with GFCF) to gain an in-depth understanding of the context in which they work; the nature of their grant-making and related programmes; the size and structure of their foundation; the nature of their donor base; the main challenges they face; and any strategic approaches or stories they would like to share with their peers to make the case for community philanthropy.

It is envisaged that the commissioned research will be available in draft form for review by 13th February 2015, to be available as a final report by 13th March 2015.


Expressions of interest should be submitted to Avila Kilmurray, Director of Policy & Strategy ( by Friday 26th September 2014. Completed submissions should include the following:

  • Name(s) and contact details of researcher(s)
  • CV with reference to previous research studies completed, together with the name and contact details of two referees
  • Summary of experience relevant to the research topic
  • Languages spoken
  • Outline of proposed methodology
  • Timescale for the research study
  • Estimated number of days aligned to methodology and timescale
  • Summary of financial costs (set out against number of days and related expenses)

UK Community Foundations’ challenge to business

UK Community Foundations’ Enrich List – a play of words on the Sunday Times Rich List – has calculated that £49 billion (more than USD $84 billion) annually could be given to support communities across the UK, if all businesses donated the average corporate donation of £10,000 (USD $17,150). This is based on the fact that there are currently 4,895,655 businesses in the UK, although many of them are either small or medium sized in nature. Nevertheless, there is considerable room to grow corporate philanthropy that can be effectively managed by local community foundations. At present some 846 corporate donors have been identified across the network of 46 community foundations in the UK. These account for 17% of new funds (in monetary terms) – some £7.8 million (USD $13 million) – that have been set up within community foundations. Although the largest corporate donors gave an average of £290,000 (USD $500,000), there has been a marked growth in smaller business that give £25,000 (USD $42,000) or less through their local community foundation. These latter contributions are valued as bringing with them local networking opportunities and the potential to raise the profile of the foundation’s work.

Commenting on the findings, Stephen Hammersley, CEO of UK Community Foundations, remarked: “Businesses have a vital role to play in supporting their local communities. While many already give generously, if more could be done to unlock donations, the potential for lasting change is huge.  With even a fraction of the potential £49 billion, our network could address some of the biggest issues facing our society today.” In 2013, community foundations in the UK made over 20,000 grants, distributing over £62 million (more than USD $100 million) to local causes. The total managed endowment stood at £380 million (USD $650 million), an increase of 13% on the previous year. The majority of funding across the network still comes from trusts and foundations (27% including dormant trusts), private sources (25%), with the next largest funding source being the business sector (17%). There is a clear benefit to those businesses that wish to demonstrate their commitment to investing in communities where they are based, and from where they draw their employees.

It’s not too late to complete the Community Foundation Atlas survey! Join 400 organizations around the world and be part of this unique global project!

With over 400 responses from more than 40 countries, the Community Foundation Atlas – an online project aimed at mapping community philanthropy the world over – is growing rapidly. But we need more responses to add to this already rich of data on community philanthropy around the world!

Initial findings show the enormous diversity of the global field. There are community foundations with annual budgets in the tens of thousands of US dollars and others which have tens of millions! Over three quarters have an endowment fund – and again these range from the hundreds of dollars to the billions. Although the deep analysis of the data is just getting started,

The information collected through the Atlas survey also includes how community philanthropy organizations see themselves – their roles and their successes in the communities they serve – as well as some of the societal trends to which they are responding. Participants at a recent session on the Atlas at WINGSForum in Istanbul at the end of March had a “sneak-peak” of some of this data, which looks at the essence of community foundations’ work and made further recommendations around regional disaggregation of data sets as well as looking at cohorts of institutions based on age or asset size as a way of digging deeper into understanding the dynamics, drive and origins of community philanthropy organizations in different parts of the world.

The Community Foundation Atlas is a joint collaboration of the Cleveland Foundation, the Global Fund for Community Foundations, WINGS and the Foundation Centre. It is supported by the Mott Foundation.

The survey is currently available in English and Spanish. Go to the survey

What does meaningful change look like for your community foundation? Join the global atlas project and add your voice to the picture!

The Community Foundation Atlas is an online project aimed at mapping community philanthropy the world over. A joint collaboration of the Cleveland Foundation, the Global Fund for Community Foundations, WINGS and the Foundation Centre, the Atlas seeks to detail the locations, resources, roles and measurable achievements of the world’s community foundations and community philanthropy organizations.

Preliminary data from the survey reveals a rich and diverse global landscape of community change that is being driven by community foundations and community philanthropy organizations. So far we have responses from 458 community foundations or community philanthropies from 42 different countries around the world.  They come in all sizes and shapes. For example, 28 of them have no paid staff while 8 have more than 50.  They are involved in a wide variety of different activities but more than 95 per cent of them see their main accountability being to local people. The range of their work on the ground is enormous: from addressing domestic abuse, to community mobilization in contexts of extreme violence, to leading local educational reform and to reviving lost traditions of apple farming.

When asked about the “most meaningful change” that their organizations had brought about, here’s how some of the respondents answered:

“We have established a local community group to develop and open a “green” nonprofit coop/laundry mat in an underserved neighborhood that will be supplied in part through a network of community gardens we helped to establish as a community-wide initiative and is intended to serve as a center of community engagement through selected programming and other activities.”

“The concept of community foundation is new to Haiti. In our pilot region, hundreds of local leaders from all sectors of society took part in our regional planning process. Thanks to our work, the vision of a Haiti community foundation has been inspiring community leaders, gaining traction and is steadily moving forward on the path of becoming a reality.”

“Since people start to be aware of their own potential significant changes have occurred. People start to mobilize themselves to change their spaces into a more dignified environment, improving their housing, community c enter and so on. When they can start to imagine all the possible solutions for their own community development, social change is happening.”

“We help to fund a new initiative that does two things: 1) brings organizations together to explore more collaborative ways to bring about positive change and to strengthen the community’s competitive advantage; and 2) helps local organizations (non-profits and government entities) apply for competitive funding available at the federal level. This initiative is helping to transform our community culture from one that used to cherish “the lines that divide” to one that understands the value of working together across sec tors and disciplines.”


“Although our community foundation is new and small, we have been tackling three major challenges: the first one is that Hungarian soc iety, both at the loc al and national levels, is increasingly fragmented and divided along lines of politic al orientation, ec onomic position, and social status. T aken together, it makes joint action, suc h as starting a new organisation for the good of all, fairly difficult. T he sec ond issue is the ec onomic crisis in the country, the worst in the last 25 years, meaning that everybody bec ame more c autious with their money, and reluctant to take risks and try out new things. And the third challenge was the lac k of an in-country example to follow, as there were no operating c ommunity foundations in Hungary. We reflect regularly on our work and understand that more change-making lies ahead than behind us.”

“Promotion of the concept of philanthropy in the community through initiation of Random Act of Kindness Day.”

“Our community development foundation is a unique organization. In a landscape where many not-for profits look to external donors for their sustenance, we look within Kenya and ensure it has its own investments to finance its activities. In a context where most donors and grant makers impose their agendas on communities, we support communities to be drivers of their own development agenda.”

What is the most meaningful change that has your organization has been involved in in your community? Join the survey and add your voice to this rich global picture! If you haven’t already filled in the survey, please do so at