Blog: Amplify

Leading and Learning Together

Report from the Strengthening Community Learning Forum
October 13-14, 2016 | Louisville, KY

One grant almost never solves the problem.

Community foundations know this, and they’re not just stewards of funds anymore. They’ve become long-term facilitators, unleashing the creativity and energy of others. It takes time, skill, and even more patience and flexibility. And they still do the work needed to inspire, attract, and retain donors.

Community foundations play a critical social and cultural role in our communities. They are organized for public benefit and make considerable investments in social innovation and calculated risk taking. They advocate for social change, support research, build the capacity of public charities, create educational opportunities, provide essential human services, and foster cultural expression.   

All of this comes with a myriad of challenges, and it is hugely beneficial for community foundations to be able to talk to and share with each other. Learning from someone who’s been in your situation can spare you a lot of trial and error. That’s why we held a Council member workshop in Louisville, Kentucky last month called Strengthening Community: Finding Synergies between Leadership and Donor Engagement.  

The goal was to experiment in a small group setting and see if we could ignite an honest conversation about what it takes to operate a successful community foundation in this century. The following were our attendees’ biggest takeaways from the discussion.

For their foundation:

  • Culture conversation
    • Better understanding among staff for how they interpret the goals of the organization
  • Need to improve reporting to donors on co-investments and partnerships
  • Form a coherent plan for how to tie together various conversations
  • Combining best practices on giving circles/giving days
  • Tapping donor expertise - how do you figure out what/who those knowledge leaders have to offer
  • Figuring out how to educate the board on impact investing
  • Taking the time to be thoughtful about storytelling
  • How do you find the support to stand out and try something new
  • Do more to communicate the value of what you are doing to donors, move past being humble
  • How to begin to align internally to achieve success
  • Embrace leadership; it’s not neutral

For the field as a whole:

  • Ways for community foundations to tell their stories more aggressively
  • Tell the story of philanthropy broadly, to gain engagement locally
  • Originally the donors were the foundation, then it became staff driven, synergy is about turning that cycle over again
  • How can  community foundation leadership involve more advocacy
  • No longer can we make decisions in boardrooms with people we see all the time
  • Energy that comes from getting outside of your own ecosystem
  • As a field, identifying what you can say no to allow capacity for growth and embracing the new
  • Continue to support opportunities to educate and inform about impact investing
  • Encourage cross-pollination of ideas in the field
  • Language is reinforcing silos, how do we get past that
  • Need to figure out how to illustrate where community foundations fit in the field

Since they navigate an ever-changing landscape — and the challenges are as great as the opportunities—the workshop provided a helpful space for community foundation staff to pause, think, and innovate together.  

To learn more about this gathering, connect with attendees, or discuss future opportunities for Council workshops, learning forums, or events, contact Brad Ward, Director, Community Philanthropy.


Leading and learning together concept is very much beneficial for us, it helps to develop our own skills, strategy, and basic concept. Apart from an individual, this concept is also applicable for organizations, where professionals are getting suitable support under different learning and leading programs. Community Foundation is a place where business groups, entrepreneurs, professionals, and individuals are sharing information and gathering to discuss plans, ideas, and implementation. We must appreciate these kinds of programs for the future success.

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