In September, Darren Walker became the tenth president of the Ford Foundation.
Gifts to community foundations have long been used as planning tools by individuals with philanthropic goals. Apart from qualifying for the maximum income tax deduction and the estate tax deduction, the community foundation is a vehicle that provides donors a variety of opportunities for fulfilling their philanthropic objectives. Among the most critical outcomes in community foundation success is ensuring that legal processes, including compliance with the tax code, are adhered to. And because nearly all federal and state laws pertain, directly or indirectly, to tax-exempt organizations, there are few areas of law that have no bearing whatsoever on such exempt entities, including community foundations.
Every year, thousands of nonprofits experience the departure of an executive. Faced with this challenging and typically unfamiliar situation, boards can easily make missteps that jeopardize their most important governance decision.
It’s no accident that the Council on Foundations 2013 Family Philanthropy Conference takes place this week in Silicon Valley. This is Ground Zero for technological innovation. Ideas birthed here have changed—and continue to change—the world.
I first started working in the community foundation field more than 15 years ago. It goes without saying that I’m a big fan. I believe in this democratic model of philanthropy where the collective power of many creates powerful change. I’m also a fan because most community foundations understand that our work is constantly changing and adjusting to new needs. We cannot stand still. Indeed, the model of community foundation 15 years ago was vastly different than the one I see across the country now. The difference is the greater clarity about our leadership, and about our place-based expertise and connection. Community Foundation Week makes me reflect on that leadership.
One of my most memorable moments from college was when I sat in a sea of more than 500 college students in PoliSci 101. From the back of the auditorium, a very small man stood up on stage speaking to all of us about the strength of the U.S. president as “soft power.” According to Joseph Nye of Harvard University, the man who coined the term, it is “the ability to attract and co-opt rather than coerce, use force, or give money as a means of persuasion.”
At the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, we believe strongly in the critical importance of unrestricted general operating support because it provides nonprofit leaders with the flexibility to direct spending toward strategic priorities facing their organizations. In 2011, two-thirds of the Fund’s grants were allocated for this purpose.
Many people believe facilitation is a role that only designated individuals can play in meetings or planning sessions. But just as leadership is more about how you behave than what your title is, so is facilitation about the contributions you make regardless of your role.
Why do community foundation CEOs pursue “community leadership” as a key organizing strategy in their foundations? Because there was a leadership void in our community and we realized we were uniquely positioned to step up. Because we recognized we had important assets that could help address the huge challenges facing our community. Because under the status quo, things were getting worse in our community, not better.