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.

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Foundation endowment managers faced both challenges and opportunities in 2017 as they worked towards funding the grantmaking practices of their organizations, including a continued increase in scrutiny from policymakers and preparing for the enactment of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, as well changes in the market which lead to significantly higher investment returns over previous years.

Editor's Note: This is part one of a series focusing on the winners of the 2018 

The House Rules Committee approved a rule for consideration of the Financial Services and Interior/Environment “mini-bus” appropriations bill (H.R. 6147) that refuses to allow debate or action to remove a disingenuous provision that elevates partisan politics over nonprofit missions and undermines effective community problem-solving.

New Data and Trends on International Giving

Did you know that grants by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation accounted for almost 50% of all international grants awarded by US foundations? Or that between 2011 and 2015, only 12% of funds went directly to local organizations without first flowing through an intermediary?

Last month at Legal Matters in Milwaukee, among the 50 community foundation colleagues in attendance, I argued that a newly defined role for community foundations is solidifying for the field. 

That role is to create the atmosphere, culture, and ecosystem for shared ownership of community.

The Council on Foundations and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) have partnered the past six years on the Secretary’s Award for Public-Philanthropic Partnerships. The award emphasizes cross-sector partnerships between the philanthropic and public sectors. The goal is to recognize the partnership process and its impact as a community strategy to increase the quality of life for low- and moderate-income residents across all American geographies — urban, suburban, and rural.