The Power of Community Foundations

Lucy Bernholz, wrote an excellent article that was published in the San Francisco Chronicle this weekend:

…And then there’s the extensive information that community foundations gather. Every day, nonprofit organizations and public agencies share proposed solutions with these foundations. Every day, generous individuals approach community foundations for help finding ways to meet their philanthropic goals.

These foundations are, or could be, active and effective clearinghouses for ideas. They could become partners with local news organizations in covering the ups, downs, news and local interest angles of life in the region. They could invite public officials and local residents to brainstorm about public issues, partner with community media to gather neighborhood level input, and then host opportunities for local nonprofits to interact to turn those ideas into action.

They can also provide invaluable local expertise to national funders — public, private and corporate — as brains on the ground for issues that stretch across our neighborhoods, regions and nation, from health care and energy to transportation and literacy. They are uniquely positioned to spot trends that will shape our communities and bring together people who can use that information for the good…

…Here are four steps to better community foundations:

  • Think across sectors. Poor air quality or failing schools affect us all. Who has the solutions? Convene the public sector, private companies, individuals and nonprofits to nurture solutions.
  • Invest locally. Foundations manage billion-dollar investment portfolios to make grants in the millions. Use those billion-dollar endowments locally, as seed capital for clean tech or community loan funds, or to invest in critical community resources.
  • Get involved. There are lots of options for people to give and for organizations to raise funds. Working with a local community foundation is more than simply a financial choice — it is itself an investment in the region’s future.
  • Take a stand. Politicians have election cycles, companies have bottom lines. Foundations are here for good. Use the platform of long-range thinking and permanent commitment to take stands on important community issues.

Lucy really understands philanthropy and frankly she knows the history and inner workings of the sector better than anyone blogging today.

Lucy’s call for community foundations to act as a clearinghouse for ideas got me thinking about Paul Brest’s (president of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation) recent call for an “online marketplace of information” for philanthropists. Lucy and Paul may not be engaging in wishful thinking. Community Foundations of America has recently relaunched as GivingNet (with major input from PhilanthroMedia’s Susan Herr).

Can GivingNet serve as an information clearinghouse? If not them, who?


  1. Neesh says:

    Regional funder associations might fit the bill…

    The Foundation Center could adjust its mission and fill the need, providing not just information about foundations but for them as well.

    Some combination of the two perhaps…

  2. Regional Funders has great info on Giving Circles and the Foundation Center is doing a great job with PubHub. They could both definately be players in an “information marketplace”.