As we’ve gone through these weekly #GivingTuesday posts, we’ve highlighted one organization a week. This week I want to focus on a “type” of organization: community foundations.
Community foundations are generally established by donors to benefit a specific geographical region be it a city, a county, or even a state. Wikipedia lists six hallmarks of a community foundation as:
- Act as grant-making foundations – e.g. give grants to support development projects
- Their mission broadly defined (e.g. to improve quality of life in a community)
- Serve geographically defined communities – a city, state, region, district or province
- Are supported by a broad range of private as well as public donors and seek philanthropic contributions primarily from inside the community
- Are governed by multi-sectoral local boards reflecting the community
- Build capital endowment, which is an important element of sustainability
A good option for donors
While cash gifts to your favorite charity are still wonderful, many donors may feel more comfortable giving to a community foundation. Donors can either give to a specific fund that most closely aligns with your goals within a community. Or, if they have more means, they can create their own fund. My local community foundation, the Maine Community Foundation, lists 9 different giving options for donors.
Since these funds are professionally managed, your gift will be giving long after you cut the check. And community foundations often are able to weather economic downturns in ways smaller charities might not be able to.
Collaboration and consistency
One thing I like about community foundations is their ability to collaborate with other foundations. And their ability to spur collaboration amongst nonprofits. Sometimes we in the nonprofit field get a little territorial. But having a grant making organization encourage us to talk to each other is often the “carrot” we need. Even if this collaboration doesn’t work out, the relationships from exploring the collaboration can lead to better communities.
And community foundation funds are invested like an endowment, an endowment for the community. These funds are designed to outlast any particular donor. So where you might be able to make a big gift to a charity today, that may lead to a boom and bust sort of funding for that group. As a donor, you might find it more compelling to know that charity will be getting consistent funding over the years.
Funding for the non-sexy causes
Lastly, there are always causes that will be in “favor” with people. But a community foundation’s funds can help those causes that aren’t sexy anymore. Here in Maine, we have 16 counties but most of the population lives in the southern few. Despite the population growth in the southern counties, the Maine Community Foundation has funds set up for even the poorest of the poor counties. So year in and year out, charities in those rural areas still have access to some level of funding.
Check out one near you
Whether your interest is promoting the arts, preserving history, scholarships for students, land conservation, winter home weatherization, taking care of the elderly, feeding the hungry, inspiring entrepreneurs, or protecting public buildings, chances are good a community foundation near you is helping.
For an idea of variety of things funded by one community foundation, check out the Maine Community Foundation’s photo gallery.
There are community foundations all over. For a list of ones in the United States, you can use the Council on Foundations local community foundation finder. You can search on region, state, or even by postal code!
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