Community Foundations

Community foundations are grantmaking public charities that are dedicated to improving the lives of people in a defined local geographic area. They bring together the financial resources of individuals, families, and businesses to support effective nonprofits in their communities. Community foundations vary widely in asset size, ranging from less than $100,000 to more than $1.7 billion.

Community foundations play a key role in identifying and solving community problems. In 2011, they gave an estimated $4.3 billion to a variety of nonprofit activities in fields that included the arts and education, health and human services, the environment, and disaster relief. The Community Foundations National Standards Board confirms operational excellence in six key areas—mission, structure, and governance; resource development; stewardship and accountability; grantmaking and community leadership; donor relations; and communications. Foundations that comply with these standards can display the official National Standards Seal. Right now nearly 500 community foundations have earned the seal.

More than 750 community foundations operate in urban and rural areas in every state in the United States; currently, more than 570 belong to the Council on Foundations. The community foundation model also has taken hold around the world. According to the 2010 Community Foundation Global Status Report, there are 1,680 community foundations in 51 countries. Forty-six percent exist outside of the United States. You can use our Community Foundation Locator to view a list of community foundations in the United States.

Below is everything on our site for community foundations. You can use the filtering options on the right to narrow these results.

In an effort to ensure that charitable resources are used exclusively for charitable purposes and not used to support terrorist activity, organizations may choose to adopt practices in addition to those explicitly required by law. Among the practices that some charities choose to adopt is including language in their grant agreements requiring grantees to certify that they do not and will not knowingly provide material support to any individual or entity furthering terrorist activities.

Can we back out of a multiyear commitment we made in a prior year because our foundation’s assets have declined?

The answer in many cases is “no.” That is, unless your grantee is willing to release your foundation from its obligation.

Generally, an unconditional, multiyear grant is considered a pledge to the grantee organization. In many states, a pledge is a legally binding obligation. Therefore, your grantee could seek to take you to court should you stop paying the grant.

With a little caution, community foundations can support the charitable activities of non-charities.

A chamber of commerce requests a grant to start a computer-training program.

A gardening club asks for money to cover a local beautification project.

A cemetery association seeks support for restoration of a memorial statue.

May a community foundation make any of these grants? The short answer: it depends. The longer answer follows.

Generally, there is no legal restriction against making grants to churches, synagogues, mosques or other religious institutions. But there are some things foundations interested in such grantmaking should know.

Everything you need to know to stay out of trouble with third-party representatives.

Does hearing the sentence "Just make that grant check payable to my fiscal agent" stop you in your tracks? It should. If your potential grantees are washing your grant funds through an accommodating charity that has no control over your grant-funded activities, you should be worried.

Can a 501(c)(3) organization with a donor advised fund at a community foundation make a distribution to itself?

In the community foundation world, donors often seek to create funds for the benefit of a designated individual or small group of people-for example, an individual with enormous medical bills, a family blessed with quintuplets, or a family that has lost its primary wage earner. Although distributions from such funds usually take the form of grants to individuals, a community foundation should generally not establish such a fund.

Individual taxpayers cannot take a charitable deduction for making a gift to an individual, even when channeled through a charitable institution, no matter how deserving of charity the recipient may be.

Dewey Diligence, a program officer at the Acme Community Foundation, was accustomed to having donor advisors call and request that contributions be made to churches and other religious institutions.

When donors to scholarship funds see the impact that their money can have on the life of a student, they are often inspired to contribute more. Sometimes they will add more to the principal of the fund so that future awardees can receive bigger scholarships or more scholarships can be awarded. Where investment losses have reduced the value of the scholarship fund and the amount available to pay out, donors may wish to round up the year’s grants.

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