Why plumbing matters: introducing the Global Alliance for Community Philanthropy

We very excited to be unveiling some new changes to our website this month, along with a new-look e-bulletin. These include a new section on the recently-established Global Alliance for Community Philanthropy (GACP) and in the future, stories and blogs that link directly to the GACP will be easily identifiable through its own distinct logo.

Refreshing one’s communications tools is always good to do from time to time. However, the GACP represents much more than an opportunity for a re-branding exercise, providing as it does an exciting opportunity to put community philanthropy on the map of international development. The GACP has big ambitions: it “aims to advance the practice of community philanthropy and influence international development actors to better understand, support, and promote the role of community philanthropy in the sustainability and vibrancy of civil society and in achieving more lasting development outcomes.” And what is particularly significant about it is that its initial funder members are drawn from across the development and philanthropy spectrum, including private foundations (Mott Foundation, Rockefeller Brothers Fund), a bilateral donor (USAID) and a private foundation / INGO hybrid (Aga Khan Foundation), each of which has agreed to commit time and resources to thinking and learning about community philanthropy, to sharing experiences of what works and what doesn’t, to testing concepts across institutional frameworks and to informing and engaging others in the donor space. As a fifth partner and the Secretariat, the GFCF has been charged with coordinating the efforts of the GACP. We will be drawing on our experiences of using our grantmaking to develop an evidence base for the global community philanthropy field, drawn from a diversity of circumstances, institutions and contexts. Over the last seven years, the GFCF has been working to promote and support institutions of community philanthropy around the world. Our work has been driven by a conviction that local development efforts are more effective when communities are able to articulate and address their needs and also when they have a stake – as co-investors bringing assets to the table – in their own development.

The GACP has been established at a time when the global context for development aid is changing rapidly as a recent article on the Guardian Development Professionals website describes. The search for new models and structures has meant many INGOs restructuring to cut costs because of a dramatic reduction in development aid which has traditionally been a key source of funding for many of them. Some internationally active NGOs are relocating their offices to the Global South, for a variety of philosophical and tactical reasons. As the shifting landscape for development aid changes, pointing to a future with less international funding for development, as civil society organizations in the Global South grow stronger and more established and as new assets emerge in traditionally aid-dependent contexts (whether in terms of new classes of mega-rich and middle classes, or of mineral wealth), there is certainly a need for some radical new thinking about what the future architecture for civil society funding might look like.

At the heart of the notion of community philanthropy is the idea that assets exist in every community and that if these can be harnessed and organized, they can be applied to local development processes in ways that are both more cost-effective and more sustainable in terms of social capital (assuming that people invest their own assets when high levels of trust exist).

And yet, community philanthropy barely features in the mainstream development discourse. In a recent article, An Alternative to Development Aid on the Open Democracy website, Nora Lester Murad, a leading advocate for community philanthropy as a development strategy and a founder of the Dalia Association, Palestine, writes. “While critiques of international aid are becoming mainstream, there is still little awareness about community foundations as a viable alternative, even in the discourse about funding for human rights. In responding to local challenges and opportunities, community foundations and other community philanthropic organizations offer communities a dignified and creative way to organize their resources towards collective self-reliance for generations to come.” She goes on to describe her own experience of working with a group of local leaders to establish Dalia, Palestine’s first community foundation.

“If only Palestinians had their own money,” I thought, “…the wasteful, irrelevant and unsustainable activities posited as ‘post conflict development’ would stop.” But my group of co-founders quickly disabused me of my naïve and simplistic approach. Self-determination is not about having a big endowment. It’s about responsibly and intentionally utilizing the resources we have, mobilizing other resources by modelling credible, inspiring practice, and working transparently, democratically and accountably to pursue our own priorities over the long haul.”

Over the past seven years, Dalia has introduced an innovative local grants process, “community-controlled grantmaking”, which involves local community members in decision-making around the allocation of small grants. They have also developed another strand of work around building local philanthropy among local companies. And throughout they have sought to use their experiences of grassroots grantmaking and philanthropy development processes as an alternative to many of the assumptions of international development aid and a model from which to learn.

In thinking about what sustainable development might look like, who wouldn’t find the idea of a local institution that facilitates local people making decisions about their own development, backed by local philanthropic resources, compelling? And yet so far few funding institutions have – for a variety of reasons – had the interest, the resources or the flexibility to invest in creating the conditions which might allow such organizations to thrive.

At the recent WINGSForum, The Power of Networks: Building Connected Global Philanthropyin Istanbul, the Mott Foundation received an award for its constant and unwavering support for and investment in the development of civil society (and specifically philanthropic) infrastructure around the world. Mott has also invested heavily in the development of community foundations and community philanthropy around the world. In accepting the award on behalf of the foundation, Shannon Lawder, Director of Civil Society described how philanthropic infrastructure might be compared to the plumbing in a house: it’s not the most attractive or creative part of construction and design, you can’t actually see the pipes but you know they are there, they play an essential and yet invisible role and you would be in trouble without them.

Jenny Hodgson

Changing personal narratives as an outcome: guest blog from Janis Foster Richardson

What is more important?  Process or products and outcomes.  This is a question I’m frequently asked by people who are curious about citizen sector investing, with the expectation that I’m going to say process – and the assumption that in the small grants world, there can’t be much “there there” when it comes to tangible products or outcomes.

Janis Foster Richards, Grassroots Grantmakers Here’s how I think about this question:

Ultimately, the product or ultimate outcome that we are looking for in the big thinking on small grants world of citizen sector investing is vibrant, resilient and just communities.  But on the way to that destination – because of the process part of the equation – there’s another outcome.  It’s people who see themselves and their neighbors through different eyes – as powerful, resourceful, and joyful.  And people who know how to get things done, have experience initiating and acting, and are confident that most if not all of what they need is already right in the room – especially when the room is full of people just like them.  It’s a stronger citizen sector with people who see themselves as powerful – not because they are told that they are powerful, but because they have experienced themselves as powerful.

And here’s what comes to mind when I think about the change in how people see themselves – changing their personal narratives – as an outcome:

I remember feeling initially horrified when a young woman from a community I was visiting stood up and said to the group of funders in the room, “I am an outcome”.  She was standing with a nonprofit staff member who was beaming with pride – pride that I interpreted as pride in her agency’s ability to successfully fix this young woman.  I couldn’t imagine embracing the idea that I am an outcome – that I went into an agency’s door broken and came out fixed because of the skilled mechanics inside, like a bum car that went into the shop and came out working.

But as I thought about this more, I realized that I – yes me, personally – am an outcome – the type of outcome that is sometimes invisible in the funding world but is absolutely essential to the community outcome that we’re really after.  How I think of myself has been profoundly changed by the experiences that I have had others in my community through the years.  I have discovered personal gifts that I never suspected were there and were only revealed when I was in relationship with other people who valued what I had to offer and was in a situation that required me to give and grow that gift.  Yes, required.  Possibly because I was the one in the room with a missing piece of a bigger puzzle, and that doing something I cared about meant that I needed to move to the edge of my comfort zone and do something that I didn’t think I could do.  The imagining, planning, organizing and leading up to the product part – what some would describe as the process part – was where a lot of the growth happened for me, with the importance of the product – the cleaned up park, the community event, the neighborhood newspaper, the success at the City Council meeting – as fuel the reward at the end.

I have also been changed because I have seen people reveal amazing gifts that I never suspected were there because I was not aware of the judgements about who they were or what they could do that were clouding my vision. Again, more learning about myself as I was learning more about others.

And, I have been changed by the joy that has helped manage the growing pains of becoming who I am supposed to be – joy that was only there because I was in relationship with others.

I don’t think of myself as a confident person, perhaps because confident, to me, comes close to cocky.  But I know – only because of my experiences with my neighbors – that I have something to offer in spite of my flaws, that I don’t have to have all of the answers, and that any moment might be the moment when I will discover something thrilling about the people around me.  I know how to get something going and how to join in when something is already going – and, using my grassroots grantmaking jargon, see myself as an active citizen and someone who has power that is magnified when I connect with others who share the space that I call community.

As I think more about the young woman who announced herself as an outcome, I can say “yes – you go girl!” instead of “oh no”.  Even though she might have gone in one door to have something fixed, she came out with something else – a fire inside that ignited her courage to be in that room with us and stand up to proclaim that she is powerful in words that she thought we would appreciate and understand – “I am an outcome”.  She was on another path but we ended in at a similar destination.

So when you ask me about product or process, let me ask you:

  • Are we starting from the same place, with the shared belief that the ultimate product that we are after is community vibrancy, resiliency and justice?
  • How do you think about yourself as an outcome?  And what experiences (or processes) along the way have been really important for shaping how you think about yourself?
  • If you’re a funder, are you thinking about the learning by doing part of what you are funding as product-generating, or looking for what you consider to be shorter routes to your desired end?
  • If you are investing in fixing people doors, how are you also looking out for changing people’s narrative opportunities that may also be inside those doors but are hidden away – just because people think that you’re not interested in that type of product?

And, as always, I welcome your comments both on and offline.  Weigh in here or connect with me directly via email.

This blog was first published on Janis’ blog, Big Thinking on Small Grants

Guest blog: The Old and the New

I’m feeling “old.”  Not as opposed to “young” but as opposed to “new.”  I think it’s all this talk in our sector lately about innovation. Whatever happened to “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?”  And it’s just oh so sexy and attention-grabbing to label something as “new” even when it’s not.

OK, so I’m sounding like a stuffy old curmudgeon pining away for some mythical good ole days.  But I still do have serious questions about how “new” some hot trendy things in philanthropy really are (e.g. venture philanthropy, collective impact, scaling, even community leadership) or whether it’s just things people have been doing for quite a while but were calling them something else, or not calling them anything at all but still doing.  The proverbial “old wine in new bottles.”

Anyway, in thinking about a session at the upcoming fall conference on some new (there I go – as guilty as the rest!) and exciting things going on at community foundations around the world as well as in the U.S., Jenny Hodgson and I almost went with “old wine in new bottles” for (a feeble attempt at) a catchy title for the session.  But then we realized – although there’s certainly some of that in what we’d like people to learn and think about – there’s more of the reverse going on.  If the bottle is the value base and purpose of community foundations, then the wine is what they actually do day-to-day to make a difference in their communities.

A recent report (published by the Global Fund for Community Foundations and the Coady International Institute) called The New Generation of Community Foundations talks about how this “new generation … blurs the boundaries between mutual aid and philanthropy by placing a particular emphasis on the role and value of local assets and resources [ed. – don’t see nuthin’ new here – yet], which may include money as well as different forms of social capital, such as trust and volunteerism or mutual help and support [ed. – there it is!].”

Waqfeyat al Maadi Community Foundation, Egypt: a “new generation community foundation”?

Whether or not you think that’s really new, I would say that it’s different than most of the last few decades in the U.S. community foundation field.  Or, at the least, it represents a shift in emphasis between the various components of the value proposition of community foundations.  And it’s beyond just the by-now-slightly-tiring and somewhat false dichotomy between asset development/endowment building/donor service on the one hand and community change/social justice/lasting impact on the other.

Especially in  some places around the world facing huge challenges, there seems to be a new (different?) way of considering what community assets really are (certainly beyond endowments or even money), by whom and for whom and how they are unleashed and applied, and what role community foundations play in all this.

In many cases this “new generation of community foundations stretches the concept of what a community foundation is.  So – are we talking about new bottles as well?  Is it really new wine?  Or is it all just same-old same-old, but using different terms?

Please join the conversation by reading the report and posting a comment to this blog and/or at the session (at the Council on Foundations Fall Community Foundation conference in New Orleans) called A new generation of community foundations: New wine in old bottles? on Tuesday September 11, from 4 to 5 p.m.

Nick Deychakiwsky is Program Officer at the CS Mott Foundation. This blog was originally published on the US Council on Foundations RE: Philanthropy blog.

Community Philanthropy with a Social Justice Approach: The Added Value

‘Social justice’ encapsulates the values of justice, fairness and peace within communities. Philanthropy for social justice examines structural arrangements that cause and maintain injustice and unfair treatment and focuses on changing those structures.

The Philanthropy for Social Justice and Peace (PSJP) Network is a global network of philanthropy practitioners working to increase the impact of grantmaking for social justice and peace and to shift the narrative in philanthropy to one that understands and embraces the importance of a social justice approach.

A social justice approach to philanthropy respects the role of those most affected by injustice as agents of their own change. While this may be close to the central tenet of Community philanthropy – local ownership of local solutions, not all Community Philanthropy addresses structural issues. However, there are interesting and inspiring examples that show us that where the two intersect and strategies that both deepen community engagement and employ a cohesive approach to address structural and contextual drivers of injustice, there is added value to the change that is brought about.

The Dalit Foundation is the philanthropic arm of a social movement for structural change in the Indian society. It supports grassroots initiatives that address beliefs and practices that perpetuate caste discrimination and unequal treatment of Dalits. Committed to the principles of sustainable and bottom-up change, the Dalit Foundation has recently partnered with the Global Fund for Community Foundations to further enhance community engagement in mobilizing resources for the Dalit Movement. The Prayatna Foundation, a former grantee of the Dalit Foundation and a small community based organization (CBO) covering 50 villages in Barabanki in India offers many lessons in rethinking community philanthropy with a social justice approach.

Prayatna Foundation, India

Prayatna Foundation’s over 5000 members belong largely to the Dalit and Muslim communities and almost all of them fall below the poverty line. Against a backdrop of poverty and traditional beliefs that foster differences between the two communities, the philanthropic content of Prayatna transcends monetary contributions and is based significantly on social capital. Trust, reliability, care/concern and a common ground of affinity resulting from centuries of structural injustices and exclusion are the most important elements in the shared responsibility of the CBO members for their development. The philanthropy of the community here plays an important role in transforming situations of potential conflict to one of collective responsibility.

As the PSJP Network moves forward building connections worldwide in order to deepen and broaden the impact of philanthropy for justice, peace, equality and fair treatment for all, I’m sure that we will encounter many such interconnected lessons for community philanthropy practitioners and social justice grant makers to increase the value, impact and sustainability of their work.

Chandrika Sahai, Coordinator PSJP

For more information on Social Justice Philanthropy and the Philanthropy for Social Justice and Peace Network, visit the PSJP Website and PSJP Blog.



Community Foundations – Building Civil Society and Democratic Practice from the Ground Up

Earlier this year, I spent three inspiring weeks visiting community foundations and community development organizations in Kenya and South Africa.  For several years I’ve been learning about the work of many of these organizations, most of whom receive financial and training support from the Global Fund for Community Foundations.

Jeff Yosts visits KCDF partners in Kenya

As a community developer, I believe deeply in the power of community-led, asset-based development.  I’m privileged to work with the Nebraska Community Foundation, a statewide community development organization using philanthropy as a tool to build our hometowns from the bottom-up, focusing on mobilizing local assets to shape a more prosperous future.  During the past fifteen years I’ve had the opportunity to visit and work with many community foundations throughout the United States and internationally.  It’s not unusual to discover that community foundations, especially U.S.-based community foundations, are focused on donor development and assets under management to the detriment of community building and sustainability, and therefore aren’t achieving the community change they espouse.

I witnessed something quite different during my time in Africa.

Following are two stories of the extraordinary work I had the opportunity to experience:

South Africa is a fascinating experiment in building a representative and constitutional democracy.  Apartheid was officially abolished in the 1990s and with this change came a new government, constitution and bill of rights pledging equal rights for every South African citizen.  Of course, a constitutional guarantee does not assure that rights will be protected immediately, if ever.  Therefore, building democratic practice among citizens, with an emphasis on youth and young adults, is a focus area of the Community Development Foundation–Western Cape (CDFWC) based in Cape Town. The leaders of CDFWC have used a program called PhotoSpeak, whereby they provide digital cameras to young people and ask them to document what they see and experience – the good, the bad, the opportunities, the heartbreaks.  Next, they are helping these young people to craft stories, building their confidence and advocacy skills to communicate issues to peers, parents, local leaders and government officials.  CDFWC also provides the young people with financial resources to make grants, through a program called Youth Banks, and create leverage to fix problems and pursue opportunities.

One of the images from CDF WC’s PhotoSpeak project

In the past two years the PhotoSpeak project has taken an interesting turn.  CDFWC leadership discovered that disenfranchised young people were having trouble relating to four specific provisions in the Bill of Rights: (1) Everyone has the right to life; (2) Everyone has the right to freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief and opinion; (3) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and association; and (4) No citizen may be deprived of citizenship.  They have evolved their PhotoSpeak project to encourage young people to focus on documenting how citizens exercise these rights on daily basis.  They’re building democratic practice and accountability one citizen at a time.

In Kenya, I spent time with the Kenya Community Development Foundation (KCDF).  KCDF works nationwide and is involved in nearly every type of community development activity you can imagine, ranging from clean water to small business and cooperative enterprise development and from agricultural productivity to interracial and intertribal relations.  Most importantly, KCDF leadership uses their trusting relationships and their political and financial capital to build community capacity at the local level – they’re helping local leaders who are focused on doing the right things to do the right things.

This guest blog is by Jeff Yost, President and CEO, Nebraska Community Foundation, United States



Community foundations and youth… a different kind of glue

What do community foundations bring to the table when it comes to engaging with young people? How do they differ from or compare with NGOs that focus specifically on youth?

These were the questions up for debate at a global gathering of community foundations organized by the GFCF in Romania last month. It was the first time that we had brought together a global group of community foundations to discuss their work in the area of youth civic engagement. Data collected from our grantmaking over the last five years had shown us that, although many community foundations would see themselves as generalists by nature (i.e. they work on a range of issues that arise in their communities), there were several issues on which community foundations – regardless of size or geographic location – were particularly active, and youth was at the top of the list.

Today’s young people are faced with all manner of challenges arising from changing demographics (most people in Africa are under the age of 30, for example) and social and economic factors that are putting pressure on jobs, education, healthcare etc. and that often result in the kinds of disillusionment and disengagement that arise from all of the above. At the same it is also true that there is no shortage of civil society organizations run for or by young people.

Given the existence of so many other youth programmes and NGOs, then, why do so many community foundations see themselves as having a role in working with young people? Certainly, there are some fine examples of successful and effective youth programmes that have developed through and by community foundations. YouthBank, for example, is a model that was originally developed under auspices of the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland and has been successfully replicated in other parts of the world, most notably, Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and the Middle East. The YouthBank model promotes young people’s involvement in community issues as well as individual leadership development by offering them the opportunity to be involved in the decision making process around the allocation of grants for small-scale community projects developed and implemented by their peers. In Cluj, Romania, volunteers in the YouthBank (a project of the Cluj Community Foundation) are also given the task of raising money locally for these projects.

In South Africa, the Community Development Foundation for Western Cape has found its PhotoSpeak project, which uses photography as a way for young people to express themselves – their feelings, their aspirations and their frustrations about the place they live – to be an extremely effective tool through which to build more meaningful and trusting relationships with young people who may otherwise be overlooked or excluded.

And in Belgium, the enormously successful MyMachine project – which links up the imaginations of primary school children who dream up their “ideal machine”, with the technical skills of design students who produce the blue-prints and then, after a selection process, the machines themselves –  – was developed as a joint collaboration of the Community Foundation West Flanders and two other partners.

There is something indeed unique in the institutional make-up of the community foundation, with its emphasis on nurturing a culture of purposeful giving, and its use of small grants to support a range of local issues and initiatives which allows it to develop multiple relationships, with and across diverse elements of the community and to take the kind of holistic overview of a community which sector or issue-specific NGOs cannot always do. When they enjoy high levels of local ownership and credibility, community foundations – and other similar institutions of community philanthropy – can serve as the “strong glue” that can bridge differences – of race, socio-economics, gender and of different generations. Would the Waqfeyat al Maadi Community Foundation in Cairo, for example, have found itself thrust into a position of community leadership in mediating between the authorities and the families of those (mostly young people) who were shot in Tahrir square earlier this year, if it had not spent the previous two years quietly carving out its own unique cross-community niche?

And so back to the Romania debate…. Amidst some sharp observations, eloquent speeches, and a lot of good humour, some serious points struck me:

–        Through their programmes and structures, community foundations can offer multiple opportunities for youth leadership development and engagement which are quite different from other types of youth-focused NGOs. Young people can be involved variously as donors, decision-makers, board members, grantees, teachers and their actions need not be confined only to “youth” issues but rather they can also have a voice on other, broader community issues (by sitting on a grants selection programme for the environment, or taking a seat on the community foundation’s board);

–        However, we are all prone to sticking to our silos and staying with “our own” (in fact, should we have brought youth NGO representatives to our meeting to inject a more specialist perspective to our generalist discussions? Perhaps our meeting was successful in affirming the roles that community foundations can play in regard to young people and strengthening the global community foundation network, but less effective in terms of thinking about broader coalitions and collaborations…)

–        As an emerging global sector (and I am talking particularly about community foundations in Eastern Europe and the Global South), we need to get better at communicating our work and articulating the nature of the kind of trust-building and community-building opportunities we are engaged in and how that might complements and strengthen the efforts of others;

–         And finally, the question raised in our debate was really a false dichotomy: there are good youth programmes, whose effects can be empowering and transformative and bad youth programmes where nothing in the end and neither community foundations nor NGOs have the monopoly on either. A much better question for us – as supporters and leaders of community foundations –  to be asking ourselves is posed by Linetta Gilbert, writing in Alliance magazine a few years back and it relates to how we can bring about lasting and progressive change in our communities: ‘Do we have the courage and vision to be the glue that brings diverse people together to work towards their shared aspirations for equity, rather than a glue that keeps far too many people stuck in conditions that deny their dignity and deprive them of opportunity and hope?’

Jenny Hodgson

Laying down the challenge for community foundations everywhere

“In five or 10 years, I fear that many of the institutions in this room won’t be here.” These were the words of Emmett Carson, CEO of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, speaking at the Council on Foundations Fall Community Foundation Conference in San Francisco in September 2011.

In the global landscape of community foundations, Silicon Valley Community Foundation is among the biggest: over the past five years it has awarded over $1 billion, raised over $1 billion and increased its assets by over $500 million. Of the top 25 US foundations that support international causes, Silicon Valley is at number 13 (the only community foundation on the list).

The sheer size and scale of Silicon Valley Community Foundation propels it in an altogether different world (or even planet) from those community foundations and grassroots grantmakers in other parts of the world that the GFCF works with. Whether they are in Russia, Thailand, Zimbabwe, Ecuador or Egypt, most of these community foundations are still financially very small. Although there are a handful of community foundations outside North America and Western Europe that have built up endowment funds of several million dollars and whose annual budgets are in the million-dollar range, most operate on budgets that are much smaller. A report (“More than the Poor Cousin”), produced by the GFCF in 2010 showed that, across a sample of 50 community foundations worldwide, over half had an annual budget of $65,000 or less.

The often huge disparities between the size community foundations in the West (and particularly, the United States) and in other low and middle-income contexts can sometimes make for limited opportunities for real exchange and may even lead one to wonder whether the experiences are too different to merit even sharing the same name (but that’s a debate for another day). The experience of attending an international community foundation conference (whether in the United States, Canada or the U.K.) can be quite overwhelming: gratifying, yes, to see that community foundations, still largely so invisible and little known in so many developing contexts, can convene in such numbers and with such confidence, with legal recognition, tax concessions etc. all in place, but often the conference conversations are so far removed from the everyday experience of running a community foundation in India or Kenya as to make them irrelevant.

So what was Emmett Carson talking about when he made this ominous warning about the dangers that lie ahead for US community foundations? And might they apply to community foundations outside the United States too? Well, he made a number of points, and all of them have resonance for the range of community foundations and likeminded organizations that GFCF works with globally. Broadly speaking, his main points were:

1.      Community foundations need to be about more than managing and accumulating financial assets. As the philanthropic market place continues to diversify and grow, new players are likely to emerge that can manage these responsibilities more cheaply and/or effectively;
2.      Community foundations need to play to their strengths as conveners that can bridge across different parts of the community and with government, rather than just as managers of money.
3.      There should be different models for community foundations.
4.      Community foundations are increasingly ill-equipped to respond to the urgent issues of our time: “The structure of how we think about the work is increasingly at odds with how people live their lives and how they think about problems.”

On the first point: it is already the case that community foundations are about more than money in most developing and emerging contexts. Financial numbers are important, and easy to quantify – money received, grants made, the value of endowment funds etc. But, particularly when these numbers are small, it is important not to overlook or underestimate the importance of less tangible strengths that form the backbone of many of the community foundations the GFCF works with. These strengths include the knowledge, trust, relationships and judgment built up by groups that are deeply embedded in their communities. The story of the Waqfeyat al Maadi Community Foundation in Cairo, a young organization which still getting itself established, which was propelled into a leadership role acting as interface between local authorities and the community when the Arab Spring swept through Egypt earlier this year, is a good example of this. This brings me to point two: while a community foundation might not always offer the best “deal” on managing philanthropic donations, its multiple networks – which might mean foundation staff having coffee in the morning with the local member of parliament, lunch with a local business and tea in the afternoon with a community group –  can more than make up for that. This gives community foundations a unique and distinct advantage in comparison with other more business-efficiency/ transaction-driven philanthropic service providers and one which they should be much more vocal about.

Point three: again, globally the community foundation community is already quite advanced in terms of embracing flexibility and diversity. In our GFCF convenings and conversations we are increasingly comfortable working and thinking as a “tribe”, with shared values and operational principles, while acknowledging the differences in the ways we operate. So terms like “hybrids”, “grass-roots grantmakers”, “community foundation-like” and community philanthropy institutions all work in our meetings. Similarly, if a community foundation isn’t making grants there is usually a good reason for it (like low trust or low capacities in a community or a reluctance to be seen as the “donor” too early on and thus distort the delicate process of cultivating local relationships). The same goes if a foundation decides to plant in trees as an endowment (because they offer a good financial return and can be seen growing by the community, so reducing fears about money being “put away forever” and never to be seen again).

Point 4:  Confronted with issues like climate change, poverty, mass immigration perhaps community foundations can sometimes appear parochial or conservative in their agendas. But again, globally there is a huge range of interesting organizations working from the bottom up of our societies, which include social enterprises, community philanthropies, social movements, protest groups, women’s funds, and hybrid forms that defy easy categorization. These organizations – which include community foundations among their number – are finding new and exciting ways to tackle these big issues and, with the help of the internet, social networking, peer-learning and convenings, are increasingly able to spread their ideas through the sector. The opportunities for shaking off our complacency and “business as usual” mindsets, as Carson warns, and for linking up creative and bold thinking around the world’s big issues are greater than ever before.

Jenny Hodgson