Friday, April 20, 2007

Community foundations...are we there yet?

According to Todd Cohen at InsidePhilanthropy, community foundations are "making markets." Cohen writes:

"...a growing number of community foundations also are playing an increasingly vital role in raising public awareness about local needs and issues, convening local citizens and groups to talk about addressing those issues, and connecting donors with causes they care about.

If they can operate effectively and openly, and engage nonprofits and donors in an inclusive and responsive marketplace for the exchange of philanthropic resources, community foundations can serve as a hub for civic engagement and charitable giving to address critical local needs.

They also can play an increasingly vital leadership role in a society that is crying for leadership in the face of escalating social problems."

As one of the authors of On The Brink of New Promise: The Future of U.S. Community Foundations, I find Cohen's claim fascinating for two reasons. First, here's what we recommended at the end of On the Brink of New Promise:


For most of their history, community foundations have helped their towns, cities, and regions by giving money for a variety of purposes, often those designated by donors. The obvious question is whether this will be a successful strategy in an era
characterized by competition for donor dollars and growing community needs.

Each community foundation must ask itself: What is the problem to which this institution is the solution? The answer will vary from place to place, but
we believe that in the future, the answer will increasingly be this: mobilizing a community and its resources to recognize the community’s collective
aspirations, engage its own toughest challenges, and embrace its most inspiring opportunities."

I absolutely agree with Cohen that community leadership is the role community foundations have to play. But are they? And, if they are now, more than they were when we wrote that in 2005, how is that leadership "making markets."

Don't get me wrong. I want this to be happening. I just want to make sure I'm not being the choir to my own preaching, or, more likely, missing something.

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