Community philanthropy and development: Deepening the discussion

Issue 1: Community philanthropy and mutual accountability

One of the things that Global Alliance for Community Philanthropy offers is a rather unique platform for a diverse set of donors and development practitioners to come together to expand their understanding and share learnings about complex issues in development and, in particular, how community philanthropy might perform a particular and valuable role that results in more effective development outcomes.

A few weeks’ ago a conversation began between some members of the Alliance about how community philanthropy might foster greater mutual accountability. We thought it would be good to invite others to contribute to this discussion so we tidied up what was originally an email exchange, sharpened our thinking and have published the conversation so far. Please join the discussion!

The question:

I would like be able to be able to distinguish more clearly community philanthropy from other forms of civil society support. Specifically, there is a reference in “A Different Kind of Wealth” (a GFCF publication on African community foundations) to one of the defining features of community philanthropy being “mutual accountability” between the philanthropic organization and its community. I’m wondering if you could say a bit about how you see that form of mutual accountability as distinct from efforts by outside donors to support CSOs (assuming that the donors aim to support the CSOs relationship with its community/constituency).

I also wonder if you can speak to the way that having grantmaking power affects this pre-existing mutual accountability relationship.

I suppose part of my aim is to be able, in discussions with colleagues who say “we already support mutual accountability when we work with CSOs,” to have more clarity on how the community philanthropy meaning of that term might be distinct from the typical donor efforts to support the same.

The response:

Thanks for your question about the extent to which community philanthropy can foster mutual accountability between a local philanthropic organization and its community. It is indeed a big and important question and one that, where community foundations / community philanthropy organizations are still quite young or emerging, represents both a hypothesis and a potential source of tension. The answers aren’t yet cut and dried and, within the global field at least, we have to rely somewhat on anecdotes and one-off experiences of partners we have been working with over the last few years (although the outcome indicators that the GFCF has developed in the last four to five years are aimed at facilitating the collection of evidence across a diverse set of individual organizations and geographic regions so that we can begin to talk about trends, common characteristics, etc.).

Firstly, it is probably worth emphasizing that that the report, “A Different Kind of Wealth”, focuses specifically on community philanthropy organizations that are all grantmakers to some extent or another and that we didn’t include other types of NGOs / CSOs that were seeking to leverage local philanthropic assets. So this response will focus on experiences from that narrower cohort of specifically grantmaking organizations (as against broader forms of community philanthropy).

In very practical terms, a community foundation can demonstrate mutual accountability by modelling transparency. In regard to transparency, that might include an Annual Report that outlines how grantmaking has been carried out and which groups have received what grants to do what. Because grantmaking is often the community foundation’s primary tool for fund development, it is essential that local donors see exactly how money flows to and through the community foundation if they are to be convinced to give again. It should also include annual Donor Statements that allow each donor (whether local or international) to see exactly where their money has gone. It should contain a Summary Income and Expenditure statement for the community philanthropy organisation.

By comparison, typical outside donor funding for a CSO may include requirements for an annual audit, but generally does not require that the organization publish information in a way that makes it accessible to local stakeholders. Outside donors tend to emphasize accountability (tracking, through third-party audits, how funds were spent) rather than transparency (information sharing about how funds were spent).

In terms of governance and local participation in decision-making (beyond the board itself), there have been some very interesting efforts by some community foundations to engage with power dynamics directly and root themselves more firmly and “horizontally” in their communities. Strategies include publically advertising for board members (Community Foundation for Northern Ireland), organizing community-decision making processes around the allocation of grants and then having grantees report back to those same community forums (Central American Women’s Fund and Dalia Association, Palestine), working with communities to create their own community funds within the foundation which give them a stake both as co-investors in the foundation but also decision-makers in regard to their allocation for local development purposes (Kenya Community Development Foundation) and engaging young people both in fundraising and grantmaking activities through projects such as YouthBank (where they raise the funds, decide how to allocate them and then monitor and review them, with the support of a community foundation or other hosting institution). We also have examples of foundations (e.g. Tewa in Nepal and West Coast Community Foundation in South Africa) where organizations that have received grants are encouraged to make a donation back to the foundation as a strategy for fostering a sense of co-investment / mutuality between the foundation and its partners. Of course, the potential for elite capture and for token participation always exists with any organization. But a community philanthropy institution that is making decisions about how to spend locally-raised resources often tends to have a stronger incentive toward horizontal engagement, and it is often built into governance structures or programmatic management.

Central American Women’s Fund

 By contrast, in terms of local participation in decision-making, where large outside donors support CSOs, even including re-granting facilities, their emphasis tends to be on the organization’s reach and potential array of activities to support, rather than the quality of engagement between the CSO and its constituents. Outside donors often have incentives to define a minimum standard of engagement for the CSO and push it not to go beyond that standard – so it is effectively a minimum and maximum – in order to maximize “value for money” from the donor perspective.

In the realm of governance, outside donors often have very robust governance standards. Their standards, while often high, reference compliance with international best practice or local legal requirements and tend to place emphasis on avoiding conflicts of interest among staff or board, with much less attention to formal roles for an organization’s community in its governance.

What is key here is that the simple “bricks and mortar” of the institutional framework of a community philanthropy organization are not in themselves sufficient to ensure mutual accountability, power-sharing with the community and only a clear articulation of some key values and principles by board and staff can help ward against the push and pull of forces that exist within any multi-stakeholder institutional arrangement.

And finally perhaps it is worth touching on the role of grantmaking and re-granting in all of this. A recent issue of Alliance magazine included a special focus on grantmaking. It explored whether grantmaking as a tool for achieving social change had been over-stated and whether other philanthropic and development tools might be more effective. Overall, contributors from emerging markets and developing contexts were adamant that grantmaking was an essential tool in fostering local development – and that it was so much more than a series of transactions and transfers of money (as is often the case when it comes to “re-granting” on behalf of international donors. Filiz Bikmen observed that in Turkey grantmaking is so much more than the transfer of funds; it is all about increasing the capacities of civil society, fostering connections between different groups – an investment in democratization. And Akwasi Aidoo, from TrustAfrica, also noted that in Africa, for so long dependent on donor aid and only just now beginning to experience the reality of a developed and indigenous African philanthropy sector, “grantmaking becomes an essential tool in fostering new and more horizontal and transparent forms of mutual accountability between donors and recipients; it constitutes part of a paradigm shift towards a form of development that is driven and resourced by Africans.”

What do you think? The GACP offers a valuable platform to establish a dialogue across different development approaches and agendas and what it needs is a range of different voices and perspectives. So, please, join the discussion!




Aga Khan highlights need for strengthened global civil society in Ottawa speech

“Increasingly, I believe, the voices of civil society are voices for change – where change has been overdue. They have been voices of hope for people living in fear,” These are the words of His Highness the Aga Khan in a speech to the Canadian Parliament on February 27th 2014, in which he expressed clearly, and in personal terms, many of the values that underpin the work of the Aga Khan Development Network.

He spoke about the pace of change in the world alongside the opportunities and challenges that this brings.  Addressing the Joint Session of Canadian Parliament the Aga Khan made reference to the constitutional reforms adopted by 37 countries over the past decade, with a further 12 countries still engaged in this work in progress.  This has thrown down a gauntlet to good governance and has highlighted the primacy of the task of transforming countries of conflict into countries of opportunity.

The Aga Khan also addressed the divisions and tensions within and between faith beliefs in the world today. Speaking about the contribution of Muslim culture and historical achievement, he emphasised the diversity that exists within the ummah – the entirety of Muslim communities around the world.  Arguing that faith should deepen concern for the world’s environment and for the well-being of humanity, the Aga Khan described the work of the Aga Khan Development Network which is informed by the age old Islamic ethic of the elimination of poverty; access to education and social peace in a pluralist environment.   A focus of hope in translating this ethic into action was identified as the voices of civil society, particularly through the work of non-profit organizations that are working both within, and between, countries around the world.

The Aga Khan Foundation U.S.A. is a member of the Global Alliance for Community Philanthropy

New on the GFCF website

1. Community philanthropy and power

No matter where they are located, the multi-stakeholder nature of community philanthropy organizations means that they will always have to deal with the tension that arises from juggling donor interests and pursuing social justice imperatives. Indeed, part of their task is to work out ways to successfully build bridges between the twoRead more

From the latest edition of Alliance magazine, Community philanthropy and power.


2. Tracking the growth of organized philanthropy: is it the missing piece in community development?

From the 2013 CIVICUS State of Civil Society Report

This article provides an overview of the current state of global community philanthropy, with particular reference to the global South. It describes the factors that are driving a growth in community philanthropy, and the key features of this distinct section of civil society and its role in driving community development agendas that are locally formulated. This small but growing field, which emphasises local asset development and multi-stakeholder good governance, may have particular relevance in the context of increased limitations experienced by and reduced resources for CSOs in many parts of the world. Read more


3. Profile of Uluntu Community Foundation

“What will make us different? The first five years of the Uluntu Community Foundation” is now available for download as a PDF file.

New book on the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland: a valuable resource to the global community philanthropy field

All communities have their own dynamics and tensions but few come with quite the same level of complexity as can be found in Northern Ireland, a society fraught with divisions and, at various periods in time, violence. A new book, Then, Now, the Future 1979 – 2019: The Role of Community Philanthropy in Progressive Social Change, tells the story of the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland (CFNI), which was originally called the Northern Ireland Voluntary Trust (NIVT). The context in which NIVT was established was highly complex and tense – according to official reports, in the seven years leading up to its creation there had been 25,127 shootings, 5,123 bomb explosions, 5,927 armed robberies and 1,683 deaths in Northern Ireland, all fallout from the political situation and sectarian divide. (This video clip shown at the opening plenary of the recent European Foundation Centre conference in Belfast gives a flavour of that complexity).

Written by Avila Kilmurray (Director of CFNI and a GFCF board member), the book offers a fascinating counter-narrative to the more familiar story of politics and violence in Northern Ireland. It focuses on the spaces and opportunities that arose among community and voluntary groups as a result both of the political instability and of economic deprivation, and on the role of the community foundation, working below the radar and with often modest resources, to support community-led initiatives across a divided society.

Avila Kilmurray with the new book on CFNI

For staff, trustees and grant partners alike, whether past, future or present, the book serves as an important historical record of the origins of CFNI and of the important role that it has played, in the words of CFNI’s current chair, Tony McCusker, in “the struggle for social justice, social inclusion and an end to violence.”

The book also has much to offer to the broader field of global community philanthropy both on “big” issues of social justice and peace-building, and also on some of the very practical nuts and bolts of community grantmaking and community development. Whether it was due to the need for complete transparency in terms of strategy and thinking from the start (essential in a society where levels of trust across community were so low), or whether it was CFNI’s overriding commitment to a community development ethos (a “nothing about me without me” type of approach), the organization has been consistently open, reflective, intellectually rigorous in articulating its strategies, assumptions, and theory of change in the context of the highly complex, sensitive and often fast-moving environment in which it has operated over the last 33 years. For those community philanthropy practitioners around the world – whether in Haiti, Tanzania or conflict-torn Southern Thailand – who are currently engaged in the processes of establishing the first community foundation, women’s fund or peace fund in their city or country and who are working against a backdrop of low public trust or community division, this book is rich in grounded wisdom and actual, practical experience, which makes it a wonderful resource to the broader field. For example:

–        On governance: When NIVT was first set up in 1979, there was a very clear understanding that if the organization were to take root, it would be essential to gain public trust from a broad cross-section of the community and that public perception would be everything. That meant selecting trustees who reflected the two main communal identities (Protestant / Unionist / Loyalist and Catholic / Nationalist / Republican) as well as a gender and geographic balance. It also meant choosing people who had the respect and confidence of community and voluntary sectors as well as of business and finance (as potential donors to the Trust). Obvious really but, sometimes in the rush to get programmes going,  spending time recruiting the right board can so easily be overlooked;

–        Leading with community development: the roots of CFNI lie strongly in a community development ethos articulated around a set of beliefs and assumptions which link to issues of social inclusion and reconciliation. These include the belief that community development “increases command of local communities over resources by bringing new resources into the community and by mobilizing existing resources / skills” and that “community development builds self-confidence and empowers individuals who become a key resource, and sometimes, leaders of the development process”.

CFNI’s Voices Programme initiative focuses on those on the margins of society

–        On the value of being a local funder, locally connected: complex political and security environments can make many funders nervous, particularly if they are not based locally. For CFNI, its proximity to the community (it has offices in Belfast and Derry), its network of grantees, its staff who are all grounded in community action have all been instrumental to its success, enabling the foundation to have an ear (or several ears) to the ground and to respond to – and sometimes pre-empt – sudden changes in political, social and economic landscape.

–        More than a grantmaker: CFNI has always been about more than money. Although grantmaking has been an important tool in building trust across the sectarian divide and building relationships with community groups who are empowered to determine and devise their own activities, grants have always been offered in the context of other forms of development support, including, training, facilitation, convening etc.

–        A risk-taker: the foundation has always been prepared to take risks “when no one else would” (a grantee). In the words of another grantee: “It did require some organization to stick its neck out and back an untested idea and, quite honestly, at that stage only someone with your local knowledge would have understood the need and been able to assess our capabilities”. The foundation’s work with marginalized groups such as the victims / survivors of the Troubles and political ex-prisoners are further examples of this.

–        Working alongside rather than “over” local people and local organizations: this is been at the heart of CFNI’s approach and it has been creative in using strategies such as consensual grantmaking (where decision-making over the allocation of grants is devolved to community grants committees) to reinforce the principles of participation and voice;

–        A clear commitment to the articulation of social justice: sometimes social justice can seem to be an elusive or woolly concept but CFNI has been particularly clear around its understanding of social justice (and what that looks like on the ground), particularly in the context of peace-building where a sense of injustice can seed further conflict.

–         A learning organization: not only has CNFI always been ready to reflect and apply learning from own programmes but it has also sought fresh and new inspiration from other parts of the world, particularly from places suffering from conflict and division. It has also (and this isn’t necessarily in the book) been extremely generous in terms of sharing its own experiences and welcoming visitors from overseas with open arms and quality conversation.

I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a thoughtful reflection on the role of community philanthropy in progressive social change, as well as some very concrete examples and guidelines. At the moment, it is only available in hard copy: I do hope that it becomes available in electronic form so that it can be more easily accessed by community philanthropy and social justice practitioners around the world.

Jenny Hodgson

“How development work can be effective and respectful”: blog highlights the work of the Community Foundation for South Sinai

Development projects for Third World regions. Around the world we are becoming more critical and disappointed with regards to the effectiveness and sincerity of them. But out of criticism arise great, new initiatives that are well thought-out and strive to obtain deeper knowledge of those people truly in need of help. South Sinai Bedouin have one of those: the Community Foundation for South Sinai.”

So begins a recent entry in the Voices of South Sinai blog about CFSS, a partner of the GFCF working with Bedouin in Egypt’s South Sinai region. It continues:

“Sorry to say, but we all know it: big, western development organizations may have the most beautiful intentions, but somehow many of them have big problems making those reality.

Huge amounts of money are put aside for those in need. But what often happens next? Corruption and ignorance make project money disappear in already filled pockets, for example. Or: some projects that are set up are simply a waste of money, as they do not address to the core problems in the deprived society. And then there are projects that are fantastic, but never will finish or run due to, again, local corruption or distorted power balances.”

Read the full blog post

Development projects for Third World regions. Around the world we are becoming more critical and disappointed with regards to the effectiveness and sincerity of them. But out of criticism arise great, new initiatives that are well thought-out and strive to obtain deeper knowledge of those people truly in need of help. South Sinai Bedouin have one of those: the Community Foundation for South Sinai.

Good news – you don’t have to reinvent the wheel! The eco-system for supporting new community foundations is there


Two years after an earthquake devastated Haiti, conversations have begun in earnest about the creation of a Haitian-led, Haitian-owned institution – a community foundation – which can mobilize a range of different resources – public and private, local and international, institutional and individual, cash and in-kind  – and which can provide the type of financial capital and technical support to Haitian NGOs, community based groups and other grassroots initiatives which are both sorely lacking in Haiti. In January I facilitated a two-day workshop in Port au Prince to develop the idea of establishing a community foundation. When I asked the participants to reflect on what was and wasn’t working in Haiti today, what emerged was a strong sense of frustration and disillusion as to how little had still been achieved, particularly given the vast outpouring of philanthropic donations and international aid in the aftermath of the earthquake. The weakness – or, in some areas and sectors, complete absence – of government as a mechanism for delivering development to the Haitian people was identified as one key factor. But the international aid effort also came in for criticism: the lack of coordination, the sense that Haitians were being excluded from decision-making, that their voices were not being heard and that Haitian NGOs and groups were being overlooked and certainly not being invested in. In the words of one of the participants, “A country cannot run on projects – Haiti is a country of projects.”

Two years since the earthquake and it seems that for many the time feels about right to start thinking about new models and approaches for Haiti: the gear change from the immediate humanitarian relief effort to long-term development is well established and the limitations of the current development effort seem all too apparent.

The timing for a conversation about new and alternative approaches and models to development in Haiti is good from another perspective. Ten years ago, or even five, there were far fewer examples and experiences of setting up a community foundation in a developing context like Haiti to look to for inspiration and to draw upon for direction. Today, the journey of setting up a local foundation in Haiti – or anywhere else – need no longer be a lonely one. All over the world, there are individual institutions as well as national and regional networks of community foundations, women’s funds and other types of local grantmakers which are increasingly well networked, able to articulate a collective voice in dialogue with international donors and governments and which offer a treasure trove of practical and grounded experience derived from no better place than the front-lines of foundation-building. They may not be as well sign-posted as other elements of today’s global civil society but the basic infrastructure, relationships, networks and knowledge are there and together they form the basis of an important eco-system in which new and emerging institutions and initiatives can emerge and thrive.

The value of such a global network and the experiences that it can bring was evident at the Haiti meeting. In attendance was the Kenya Community Development Foundation (KDCF), which is now fourteen years old, as well as the Fundación Comunitaria de la Frontera Norte (five years old) and the Corporativa de Fundaciones (thirteen years old) from Mexico, and the recently established Baoba Fund for Racial Equity in Brazil. In terms of experiences specific to Haiti there was also the Lambi Fund of Haiti, a grassroots grantmaker (14 years old) and the Haiti Fund at the Boston Foundation (established in the aftermath of the earthquake in 2010).  And with each of these institutions comes a rich assortment of different experiences to share, stories to tell, advice to give (and a combined track record amounting an impressive fifty years!).

Josette Perard and Marie Marthe St Cyr of the Lambi Fund of Haiti

The experiences from Kenya, in particular, resonated with the group. There were many parallels between the environment in Kenya in the late 1990s and the situation in Haiti today and it was these contextual factors that served to shape the development approach, culture, governance and management style of KCDF. Janet Mawiyoo, CEO of KCDF, characterized those factors as:

–        Many international actors in Kenya and yet not much to show for their efforts

–        High levels of corruption and inefficiency in government and in public institutions

–        A sense that development agendas were being set from outside Kenya

–        A low level of input and participation from communities

–        Increasingly, a dependency mindset, with people looking for help from outside and not recognizing what they have

–        The existence of strong giving traditions in Kenya, particularly around family units, which were not appreciated as something that could be built on.

In framing the new institution of KCDF, therefore, its founders had sought to emphasise some key principles which continue to underpin its work today. They are:

–        Sustainability – taking a long term view of the community

–        Listening to community issues / voices – and being responsive to them

–        Promoting local giving – as a move away from depending on foreign support and changing mindset

–        Importance of local accountability

–        Capacity development of local organizations

Janet Mawiyoo, CEO of KCDF

As work on the Haiti community foundation initiative begins to gain pace, and to negotiate its space in what is an extremely crowded NGO landscape in the country, there will be challenges and distractions – of money and politics, no doubt, and of managing expectations, particularly in the short term.   The support of sister institutions, who have travelled that lonely path before them and who have sought to change mindsets and offer an alternative approach to development, will come to play an enormously important role.

Jenny Hodgson

The conversation continued . . .

Thanks to those of you who have responded to our invitation to engage in discussion! And also, to those of you who have shared and written about the report in your own circles, such as this one published by GFCF partner in Mexico, Alternativas y Capacidades A.C. A Spanish version of the report will be available very soon and we will post it on this site and on the GFCF homepage. Portuguese and Russian translations of the report will also follow – and we are exploring the possibility of a version in Thai (there is a growing and active cluster of community foundations in Thailand but there are few resources available in Thai and English is not always so widely spoken).

Some interesting points have been raised in the responses so far on this blog. To summarize a few:

Further unpack the notion of trust One conclusion of the report is that many community foundations see one of their roles as that of building trust at the community level. In thinking about their responses, were community foundation respondents referring to organizational trust or community trust? Bheki Moyo reflects “This (community trust) it seems to me would be the greatest contribution that community foundations can make. It is only when communities have trust for themselves that they can begin to trust organisations and institutions. After all community foundations are supposed to be made up of community members.” Here in South Africa, with the end of the World Cup imminent, there are already concerns about a resurgence of xenophobic violence against non-South Africans (I recently wrote about this on the Mott Foundation’s World Cup blog): and yet only last week, it seemed the whole of Africa was united as one behind Ghana….

Writing from Vietnam, Dana Doan of the LIN Center puts it very succinctly: “building trust is a key requirement for success in terms of both community engagement programs and local fundraising. Here in Vietnam, gaining such trust depends on transparency, effective use of funds and, most importantly, the demonstration of impact.”

What are other thoughts from the field? What is your organization’s take on the question of building trust?

Exploring the role of government. In writing our report, Barry Knight and I did not go into a great deal of depth on community foundations’ interaction and engagement with government. Certainly, our data suggests that experiences differ from one community foundation to another. There does, however, seem to be a common concern regarding the importance of a community foundation’s ability to preserve some degree of independence – both in terms of governance (so in Russia, where it is common practice for government representatives to sit on the board of community foundations, they constitute no more than 1/3 of the board) and resources (in the UK, many community foundations have implemented government-funded programmes as described here by the East London Community Foundation: what have been the implications of this in terms of preserving their independence, I wonder?). In his comment, Vadim Georgienko is not convinced that states are always developmental in their orientation and methods:  “At the same time, let’s never forget totally different methods (taxes versus donations) to reach development: state has a legal monopoly for violence, coercion. Community foundations can work only with a good will.”

From a practitioner’s or even policymaker’s perspective, what would you be interested in finding out more on as far as examples and experiences of community foundations’ relationships with the state are concerned?

Engaging donor institutions Chris Mkhize from uThungulu Community Foundation in South Africa points to the current apparent disconnect between the community foundation / community philanthropy and international and national development agencies and urges greater collaboration across different development silos.

This is a key interest of the GFCF and one that we are very interested in pursuing. What are some of the steps that others are taking to raise the profile of community philanthropy institutions in international development circles? How can we, collectively, strengthen the case?

Next steps

Dana asked in her post about next steps: well, these will include making the report available in other languages and working with this current cohort of grantee partners – and others who are interested – to deepen our understanding of the different roles that community foundations with a particular view to the question of measurement and impact.