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December 06, 2012

Support organizations offer great roadmap for community foundation field


  • Community foundation support organizations — national, regional and global — help promote and professionalize the field. 
  • Globally, the best predictor of in-country growth of community foundations is the presence of support organizations to provide services for them.
  • Barely two decades ago, there were few community foundation support organizations worldwide. Today, they are on six continents.


This article is part of an occasional series about the community foundation field and the Mott Foundation’s role in supporting and strengthening it. The series reports on what is occurring in Mott’s major geographic focus areas — Central/Eastern Europe and Russia, South Africa, and the U.S. — as well as providing information about how the field is expanding globally. Mott’s goal is to inform the public about the latest trends in the community foundation field in advance of its 100th anniversary year in 2014.


Felecia Jones"Support organizations gave us a great roadmap for how to create a community foundation the right way from the very start.”


— Felecia Jones, executive director of Black Belt Community Foundation


Felecia Jones is quick to express appreciation for the support organizations in her professional field. Without them, she says, it would be difficult for staff at the Black Belt Community Foundation to tap the expertise and experiences of a variety of grantmakers around the country — and even the world.

“Our work would only mirror that of the other foundations located near us; those we had direct access to,” said Jones, executive director of the Selma, Alabama-based community foundation named for the region’s rich, black topsoil.

Fortunately — through interactions with the Global Fund for Community Foundations (GFCF), the Community Foundation Leadership Team of the Council on Foundation (COF), and the Southeastern Council of Foundations (SECF) — she has met other leaders in the field, shared ideas, and learned from them, Jones says.

Today, there are community foundation support organizations on six continents. While support organizations use a variety of names — associations, councils, federations, forums, networks, partnerships, etc. — they share similar characteristics.
Community foundation support organizations:

  • promote and professionalize the field locally, nationally and globally;
  • develop, collect and distribute resource materials for the field;
  • provide peer-to-peer networking and learning opportunities through conferences, workshops, study visits, electronic and social media channels; and
  • advocate for an environment that is fiscally and legally supportive for the field.

Many of these organizations receive support through the Mott Foundation’s Civil Society program, which has as its mission to: “strengthen philanthropy and the nonprofit sector as vital vehicles for increasing civic engagement and improving communities and societies.”

By providing services for community foundations as a field, support organizations — whether statewide, regional, national or global — offer opportunities that likely wouldn’t be available or affordable for individual institutions, Jones says.

Had it not been for serving on a panel together at a workshop planned by a support organization, Jones says, she never would have met Janet Naumi Mawiyoo. She is chief executive officer of the Kenya Community Development Foundation, which receives Mott support for its continentwide Africa Grantmakers Network.

Janet Naumi MawiyooJanet Naumi Mawiyoo, CEO of the Kenya Community Development Foundation


“Even though Janet is in Nairobi and I am in Selma, my grantmaking story is more similar to hers than that of some other community foundations in the U.S. because of the types of poor and rural communities in which we work,” Jones said. “We have a whole lot in common and can share with each other what works and what doesn’t. I cherish our relationship.”

The three community foundation support organizations that Jones is affiliated with are but a few of the dozens that exist. Individually and collectively, these organizations — such as SECF, which serves 11 states — strengthen and unify the community foundation field at home and around the world. These organizations also make it possible for small-staffed community foundations to share professional services and reduce their operating costs.

The Council of Michigan Foundations (CMF) was created in 1972 and serves more than 350 foundations in Michigan today, including community foundations. It has received $8.4 million in Mott support since 1976. CMF is praised for helping cut expenses almost 50 percent collectively for many smaller community foundations in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula by combining back-end office duties such as accounting, data processing, etc.

Spending less on overhead makes more money available to meet community needs, says Diana R. Sieger, president of the Grand Rapids Community Foundation (GFCF).

Established in 1922 as the first community foundation in the state, GRCF has assets of $250 million and a 2012 grantmaking budget of $11 million. Sieger, who also is a member of COF’s board of directors and a past chairperson of CMF, says she has experienced the value of support organizations firsthand. She cited CMF’s statewide branding initiative in the late 1990s and early 2000 as an example.

After community foundations throughout Michigan started using the same tagline: “For good. For ever.,” the field gained a unified identity, she says, and individual institutions noticed a substantial increase in the way residents took ownership for “their” local foundation. The campaign was so effective, Sieger says, it went national and had similar success because residents in other states started identifying and connecting with their local community foundation in ways they hadn’t before.

The first formal community foundation support organization in the U.S. was created in 1949 and evolved into COF. Today, it serves as a membership association for a variety of foundation types — community, corporate, family, private and independent. COF, based in Arlington, Va., provides targeted services for the nation’s approximate 740 community foundations through its Community Foundation Services program. COF is a longtime Mott grantee and has received $11.7 million in Mott support since 1967.

Support organizations working outside the U.S., including those in post-Soviet countries in Central/Eastern Europe, are also Mott grantees. Many specifically serve community foundations; others serve several types of foundations.

Community Garden mural by Ed Wong-Ligda

The Grand Rapids Community Foundation commissioned Ed Wong-Ligda to create this mural called “Community Garden.”


Such organizations have advocated effectively for national tax law changes. For example, in addition to securing tax incentives for citizens who donate to nonprofit groups, support organizations in Bulgaria, and elsewhere, were successful in their efforts to eliminate taxes on contributions made by cell phone text messages. This is a popular way to donate throughout the region, especially following natural disasters. The end result is more money going straight to the causes, leaders say.

Meanwhile, in Western Europe, the London-based Community Foundation Network (CFN) also seeks ways to increase the amount of funds directed to local grantmakers from individuals, corporations and government. The national membership association serves 55 community foundations that cover all of Northern Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales. The network’s partnership with the United Kingdom’s Office for Civil Society is both practical and strategic, says Stephen Hammersley, CFN’s chief executive.

The network, which works to highlight and expand giving initiatives United Kingdom-wide, recently helped community foundations collectively secure more than $200 million (£130 million) in government funds through a $75-million endowment challenge that matched money raised from private sources and a $125-million government-funded grassroots grants program. The result was pots of money for many communities so they can address today’s needs and also those in the future, Hammersley says.

Globally, where there are community foundation support organizations — Australia, Bulgaria, Canada, Czech Republic, Germany, Mexico, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom, Ukraine, the U.S. and elsewhere — there is growth in the field. In fact, having support organizations present is “the best predictor of new growth” in the community foundation field, according to research collected for the WINGS 2010 Global Status Report on Community Foundations, says Barry Knight, executive director of CENTRIS (The Centre for Research and Innovation in Social Policy Ltd) in the United Kingdom. He is an adviser for the South Africa-based GFCF, which is an international support organization, grassroots grantmaker and Mott grantee. Knight also has authored and collaborated on many reports, including the 2012 publication, The Value of Community Philanthropy, which was funded primarily by Mott and the Aga Khan Foundation USA.

Stephen HammersleyStephen Hammersley, chief executive of the Community Foundation Network in London


With the growth of community foundations worldwide, he says, there has come a drive for standardization, which is often undertaken or overseen by support organizations. For example, in Germany, the United Kingdom, the U.S. and elsewhere, the community foundation field has created certifications akin to seals of approval. This recognition is earned after organizations meet standards in specific areas, such as governance structure, resource development, stewardship and accountability, grantmaking, community leadership, donor relations, and communications.

Having national standards is necessary and often a point of pride for individual community foundations and their donors, says Sieger of Grand Rapids.

“Standards give assurances that funds are not being distributed by someone sitting in a room saying, ‘I like this organization, but I don’t like that one. This one gets money, but that one doesn’t,’” Sieger said. “Standards show citizens that community foundations are addressing key community needs, which were identified in an unbiased way.”

The availability of national standards also has meant newer community foundations did not need to reinvent the wheel, says Jones of Alabama.

“Support organizations gave us a great roadmap for how to create a community foundation the right way from the very start,” she said. “If they hadn’t worked with the field to develop national standards for us to follow, the staff here at the Black Belt Community Foundation would have been getting a lot of things wrong these past eight years.”