How Community Foundations Are Acting as Agents for Local Change
Jan 22, 2004
Alex Barnum was a Communications Officer at The James Irvine Foundation from 200
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You're the CEO of a community foundation, and your community faces one of the following situations: Regional anti-growth and pro-growth advocates are clashing, to the detriment of smart growth efforts. A prominent politician is trying to organize community leaders to address rising crime. Skirmishes between city and county officials have brought efforts to build a homeless shelter to a standstill. The region's economy is tanking and most players are too stuck in yesterday's grudges and skepticism to make any headway.
What is the role of the community foundation here?
Increasingly called upon to help address local needs, community foundations have been stepping into a new role: community catalyst. The phrase has found a permanent place in the community foundation world's lexicon. Many questions remain however about what catalyst activity looks like in practice and how to do it effectively. What skills and capacity do foundations need to do this work well? What are examples of successful efforts? How can such catalytic activity best be supported? To help address these questions, a new report, Community Catalyst: How Community Foundations Are Acting as Agents for Local Change (PDF file), is designed for community foundations interested in learning more about this work and for private foundations interested in supporting them.
Increasingly called upon to help address local needs, community foundations have been stepping into a new role: community catalyst.
By commissioning a broad evaluation of The James Irvine Foundation's Community Foundations Initiative (CFI)-a seven-year effort begun in 1995 to support seven California community foundations seeking to accelerate growth, build capacities and generally become more effective in serving their communities-to identify what worked, what didn't and why, everyone involved in the process learned how to enhance the impact of philanthropic work. Community Catalyst tells the story of how four local foundations helped their communities meet challenges and make progress, and it explores what they learned about how to do this important work.
The report comes from an evaluation, conducted by Public Policy Associates, with the guidance of Williams Group, of the Community Foundations Initiative. The Irvine Foundation has long recognized and supported the important role of community foundations throughout California, believing that the real potential of community foundations goes beyond the more traditional functions of asset building and grantmaking and resides in their ability to foster community. Typically serving a specific geographic area, these local institutions are well-positioned to help address grassroots concerns. As a result, the CFI encouraged participating foundations to expand their work as catalysts for local change. In many cases, they performed this role successfully. In other cases, results were mixed.
Many who work for or with community foundations are hungry to learn more about what creates success. This report begins to answer that question, and may also help fuel and inform a growing conversation about how community foundations can help residents solve local problems.
- Community Catalyst: How Community Foundations are Acting as Agents for Local Change (PDF)
A comprehensive presentation of the experiences, successes, failures, and lessons learned from the work of several community foundations. This paper defines the various forms of activity that go on under the "catalyst" umbrella. It then uses case studies, interviews, and evaluation analysis to identify specific considerations and approaches for doing, as well as supporting, community foundation catalyst work.
- What Does it Take? Attributes of Community Foundation Chief Executives (PDF)
A brief that organizes and presents a series of desired qualifications for community foundation executive directors. This paper overviews the unique challenges involved in leading a community foundation, and describes suggested personal characteristics, professional skills, and prior experience that boards can consider when hiring a new chief executive.
- CFI Partnership Assessment (PDF)
Prepared by Public Policy Associates as part of their midstream assessment of Irvine's Community Foundations Initiative, the Partnership Assessment examines aspects of the partnership between the Irvine Foundation and the participating community foundations as part of the CFI. The Assessment includes a survey of staff from both the community foundations and the Irvine Foundation. Both the survey instrument and results are included here.
Community Foundation Initiative Partners: