Community Philanthropy The context, concepts and challenges: A literature review

  1. Community foundations and community philanthropy – the evolution of terminology and the importance of context
  2. Framing the concept
  3. Community foundations in North America: one hundred years of experience
  4. Community philanthropy in Europe and the Middle East
  5. Community philanthropy in Africa
  6. Community philanthropy in Asia and the Pacific
  7. Community philanthropy in Latin America and the Caribbean
  8. The interface between community foundations and identity/issue-based philanthropy
  9. Community philanthropy: drawing the threads together


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This literature review has been prepared as a baseline of information on community philanthropy to inform the forthcoming programme of work for the Global Alliance for Community Philanthropy (GACP). The Global Alliance has been established as a collaborative learning platform by the Aga Khan Foundation, Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, Ford Foundation, Rockefeller Brothers Fund and USAID, in order to broaden and deepen understanding about how community philanthropy can contribute to strengthening civil society and enhancing the prospect for sustainable development. The work of the Global Alliance is supported by the Global Fund for Community Foundations (GFCF).1 The GFCF has supported the community philanthropy field since 2006, providing seed funding, learning opportunities and networking to facilitate mutual learning and new initiatives.

The review draws together information from existing reports, studies and organizational websites in order to provide an overview of the current state of organized community philanthropy around the globe. It has also been informed by the data and analysis provided by the Community Foundation Atlas, which was published in 2014,2 as well as grants information maintained by the GFCF. The Community Foundation Atlas has compiled, and presents, data covering 1,837 self-identified community foundations. Notwithstanding this rich source of information, the ever-changing picture of community philanthropy makes it difficult to ensure that the material gathered is completely up to date. The authors of this review are therefore at pains to point out that this is not a static piece of work, but an evolving document that will be updated in line with shifts in the field, as new initiatives emerge and fresh literature is published.

Much of the available literature tracks the field of community foundations, so this review will trace the spread of community foundations as a concept and seek to identify how the concept has been adapted to respond to needs, opportunities and circumstances in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and the global South. Our frame of reference is currently restricted to studies that are primarily available in English, but we hope to address this weakness over time by keeping this document open and dynamic in nature and enabling amendment and updating.

We are also conscious of the fact that community philanthropy includes place-based funding organizations that do not necessarily name themselves community foundations. Women’s Funds, YouthBanks, Human Rights Funds, Environmental Funds and others that focus on specific geographic areas and themes can all be considered part of the community philanthropy field. Our emphasis is on what community philanthropy organizations do in practice rather than on the names that they use to describe themselves. Where language is important, however, is in the use of terminology such as philanthropy, donor, grantmaking, social justice – terms that do not always easily translate, either literally or culturally, into different languages. If new institutions of organized community philanthropy are to take root at local level, then their vision and purpose need to resonate with local traditions and understanding. We hope that future iterations of this review will be better able to take account of this diversity in order to capture an even more comprehensive picture of the global spread and manifestation of community philanthropy.

Avila Kilmurray
Jenny Hodgson
April 2015

1 The Community Foundation Atlas is a partnership of the Cleveland Foundation, CENTRIS Consulting, Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, Foundation Center, GFCF and WINGS

(Worldwide Initiatives for Grantmaker Support).

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