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.

A look at some of the legal and non-legal aspects of merging one charitable program or organization with another.

Ray S. Munney, executive director of the Zenith County Community Foundation, had three meetings scheduled Tuesday morning. The first was with the new manager of a local corporation's charitable funds. He'd called in a panic last week to say that he wasn't sure their company scholarship program was operating in compliance with IRS rules. Might the community foundation be interested in taking over the program?

Imagine the following scenarios:

  • A donor advisor has not made a recommendation from a donor advised fund for two years.
  • An agency has requested that your community foundation not make a distribution from an agency endowment until the agency requests a distribution at some point in the future.
  • A fiscal sponsorship project has lost momentum and the funds are sitting unused.

Do you have a policy that guides how your community foundation handles these situations? If not, now is the time to put one in place.

Under the rules applicable to private foundations, directors or trustees and staff members may be reimbursed for reasonable and necessary expenses incurred in connection with the foundation's charitable activities. Such expenditures fall under the heading of administrative costs and will generally count toward the foundation's minimum distribution requirement, or payout.

What do you do when a grantee—or potential grantee—asks someone on your board or staff to sit on their board? Does such a request constitute a conflict of interest? Are there times when such a situation can actually benefit one or both of the organizations involved?

Let’s look at some of the pros and cons of sharing board members.

Many foundation board members wear more than one philanthropic hat. In addition to serving on the board of a grantmaker, they may also serve on the boards of grantseeking charities—or even on their staffs. Several issues may arise when board members find themselves on both sides of a grant request.

In the May/June 1998 issue of Foundation News & Commentary, Jane Nober wrote "That's the Ticket"  about using foundation funds to pay for tickets to fundraising events. Six years later, questions about tickets and other tangible benefits paid for by the foundation are still among the most common inquiries received by the Council on Foundations' legal department. We thought it would be helpful to review the basic rules for private foundations and highlight some recent questions we've answered.

Every organization exempt under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code is required to disclose certain information to the public:

Practice 1. The board (and investment committee and staff, if any) of a foundation should understand and fulfill their respective fiduciary responsibilities and duties under applicable law and the governing documents of the foundation and stay informed regarding any relevant changes in law, duties, or responsibilities.

Practice Tips:

“If I create a fund at the community foundation, can my investment manager still manage the funds?” You may have already come across a donor that asked this question. Such a donor is essentially requesting that the fund they create be invested outside of the foundation’s investment pool(s). While there are cases where the answer must be “no” (e.g., donor wants the investment firm she owns to manage the assets), there are also cases where the answer should be “no.” A strong policy will guide the community foundation in those cases where the answer may be “yes.”

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