Community foundation: Wikis


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Community foundations (CFs) are instruments of civil society designed to pool donations into a coordinated investment and grant making facility dedicated primarily to the social improvement of a given place. Community foundations are a global phenomenon with 1400 existing around the world of which over 700 are in the United States. A good overview of their global spread is provided by the Community Foundations Global Status Report published by the Worldwide Initiative for Grantmaker Support.



Community foundations are independent registered philanthropic institutions serving geographically defined territory, typically a city or administrative area (county, region and the like). The six main characteristics of the CFs are:

  1. Act as grant-making foundations – e.g. give grants to support development projects
  2. Their mission broadly defined (e.g. to improve quality of life in a community)
  3. Serve geographically defined communities – a city, state, region, district or province
  4. Are supported by a broad range of private as well as public donors and seek philanthropic contributions primarily from inside the community
  5. Are governed by multi-sectoral local boards reflecting the community
  6. Build capital endowment, which is an important element of sustainability

It is a combination of all these basic characteristics what makes true CF, although there are many other types of community organizations that have some of these characteristics.

Families, individuals, businesses, and nonprofit groups establish funds within community foundations into which they can contribute a variety of assets to be used for charitable purposes. The people or organizations that establish the funds can then recommend that grants be distributed, in the name of the fund or anonymously, to qualified nonprofit groups and schools. In the USA the donor receives a charitable deduction in the year that gifts are made into their funds, but not all countries where community foundations currently operate provide such incentives for donors. Increasingly, community foundations are hosting giving circles as a way to further support giving in their communities.

The assets of community foundations are pooled and invested, with donors typically having a choice of investment products.

The funds established at community foundations can be non-endowed or expendable funds (i.e., the corpus of the fund can be spent in its entirety) or they can be endowed, which limit distributions to the interest earned on the assets and/or the amount granted by the foundation as long as the corpus is not spent. Endowments last in perpetuity due to the corpus never being able to be spent.

History of community foundations

The first community foundation was set up in Cleveland in 1914 by Frederick Goff and operates now as the Cleveland Foundation. Others soon followed including the California Community Foundation and the Chicago Community Trust. The first Community Foundation in Canada was established in Winnipeg [1] in 1921 and for more than the next 50 years community foundations remained North American phenomenon.

In the early 1980s the CF concept started to spread in the United Kingdom, but the real global spread started a decade later, when CFs started to spread to non-English speaking countries of Europe and elsewhere. The first CF established on the European continent was Healthy City Community Foundation [2] in Banska Bystrica, Slovakia, followed shortly by Gutersloh CF in Germany (1996), Stara Bystrzyca CF in Poland (1998), Togliatti CF in Russia (1998), Lecco CF in Italy (1998) and many others. The first CF on the African continent, Uthungulu CF in South Africa was launched in 1999. It is estimated that around 40 countries on all inhabited continents have at least one CF; Canada, Germany and USA have each over 100 CFs, Great Britain over 50 and Australia, Italy, Mexico, New Zealand, Poland, Russia and Slovakia each more than 10 well established CFs.

To facilitate development of community foundations in developing and transforming countries, the Global Fund for Community Foundations [3] was established in 2006. The fund is currently hosted by the European Foundations Centre [4] and is supported by a number of international private and public donors such as the World Bank [5], The Ford Foundation [6], C.S.Mott Foundation [7], W.K.Kellogg Foundation [8], USAID [9], Arizona CF [10], Silicon Valley CF [11], and others.

Associations of Community Foundations

A number of countries with a number of CFs have established membership networks. Their websites typically provide a lot of historical data, practical information, contact addresses and much more.

Among the most notable websites of the CF associations are:

  • Council on Foundations (USA) [12]
  • Community Foundations of Canada (in English and French) [13]
  • Community Foundations Network (UK) [14]
  • Association of German Community Foundations (in German) [15]
  • Community Foundations Parthership Russia (in Russian) [16]

Notable international CF initiatives include

Transatlantic Community Foundation Network (TCFN) provides a platform for the exchange of experience and expertise among community foundations on both sides of the Atlantic. It seeks to identify good practice and share it with emerging and existing community foundations. In addition, its goal is to foster the development of this form of philanthropy in counties where the concept is still new. TCFN participants represent 17 countries in Europe and North America, forming a multinational network of community foundation leaders, researchers, and thinkers. TCFN is currently hosted by Community Foundations of Canada (CFC), which is based in Ottawa, Canada.

In response to the growing interest in community foundations, the Bertelsmann Foundation with support and advice of the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation created the Network in 1999. During its first years of operation, TCFN evolved into a sophisticated and flexible mechanism that enables community foundation practitioners to pool their intellectual and experiential resources, to articulate institutional performance benchmarks against which to measure progress, and to devise innovative methods that encourage the building of community-based philanthropy.

TCFN’s success has been the result of the knowledge and skill of its participants, leadership demonstrated by members of the previous management team at the Bertelsmann Foundation, and the wide-ranging agenda it laid out for itself in 1991. Community Foundations of Canada(CFC),the national membership organization for Canada’s community foundations, is pleased to serve as the current host for TCFN.

  • Worldwide Initiative for Grantmaker Support - Community Foundations [17],
  • European Foundation Centre - Community Philanthropy Initiative [18],
  • US-Mexico Border Philanthropy Partnership [19].

Some notable community foundations



United States

According to the data available on February 5, 2009 on The Foundation Center website [1] the largest community foundations, with assets over $1,000,000,000 held, were:

  1. Tulsa Community Foundation - $3,740,241,151
  2. The Cleveland Foundation - $2,183,913,190
  3. New York Community Trust - $2,135,691,023
  4. Silicon Valley Community Foundation - $1,943,885,894
  5. Chicago Community Trust - $1,841,684,803
  6. California Community Foundation - $1,257,906,849
  7. Oregon Community Foundation - $1,214,148,698
  8. Greater Kansas City Community Foundation - $1,183,724,020
  9. Marin Community Foundation - $1,180,106,202
  10. The Columbus Foundation - $1,045,016,666
  11. The San Francisco Foundation - $1,017,024,000

In terms of annual giving, seven American community foundations gave more than $100 million in grants over the year according to the last data available on February 5, 2009 [2]. The Silicon Valley Community Foundation gave out the most grants at $243 million, the California Community Foundation was second in grants made at $216 million, Greater Kansas City Community Foundation was third in grants made with $192.9 million, The New York Community Trust was fourth with $166 million, The Chicago Community Trust was fifth with $115.5 million, The Columbus Foundation was sixth with $110.7 million, and Foundation for the Carolinas was seventh with $106 million.

Statistics made available by the Foundation Center enable also financial comparison of the largest community foundations with the largest corporate and private foundations and illustrate the fact that community foundations in the United States tend to be larger than corporate foundations in both assets and grants given.

United Kingdom

The Community Foundation serving Tyne & Wear and Northumberland changes lives through inspiring local giving. It aims to help local people manage their charitable giving, build stronger communities and enrich lives through awarding grants and influence the critical issues affecting our communities. To find out more click here

Key supporters of community foundations

See also


  1. ^ Foundation Center 25 Largest Community Foundations by Asset Size. Retrieved March 28, 2009.
  2. ^ Foundation Center25 Largest Community Foundations by Total Giving. Retrieved March 28, 2009.


Bernholz. L., K. Fulton, and G. Kasper. (2005). “On the brink of new promise: The future of U.S. community foundations.” Trade report. Funded by Charles S. Mott Foundation and the Ford Foundation.

Gast, E. (2006). Community foundation handbook: What you need to know. New York: Council on Foundations.

Hall, P.D. (1989). “The community foundation in America, 1914-1987.” In Richard Magat, ed., Philanthropic Giving. New York: Oxford University Press.

Hammack, D. (1989). “Community foundations: The delicate question of purpose,” in Magat, R., ed. An agile servant: Community leadership by community foundations. New York: The Foundation Center.

Magat, R., ed. (1989). An agile servant: Community leadership by community foundations. New York: The Foundation Center.


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