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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When I first learned of the Council on Foundations’ Career Pathways program, I wasn’t sure whether I should apply. I was interested by the programs’ goal to increase the number of people of color in senior and executive positions in philanthropy and to thereby deepen capacity for impact in the field, but facing a looming deadline made me think it’d be best to wait until next year. When I realized a friend of mine, Fatima Angeles at The California Wellness Foundation, was a member of the inaugural class of 2009, I reached out for her thoughts. Her recommendation?

Last week in Mexico City, the Council co-hosted the first ever North American Community Foundations Summit, which brought together more than 200 leaders to discuss how we can truly leave no one behind and achieve the SDGs in North America by 2030. It was a powerful conversation about our shared challenges; discussing complex issues like poverty, inequality, climate change, immigration, trade, and more.

Coming out of a historic meeting that brought together philanthropic leaders from Canada, Mexico and the United States, more than 80 philanthropic leaders have joined in solidarity and pledged to work to reduce poverty and increase opportunity for all across North America.

More than 200 leaders from across North America gathered in Mexico City for the inaugural North American Community Foundations Summit on February 5-6, 2018.

Out of this historic gathering, the Council on Foundations and event co-hosts Community Foundations of Canada and Comunalia from Mexico launched a shared statement of commitment to connect, learn, and exchange across borders in order to leave no one behind and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals in all communities. 

Impact of Midwest Philanthropy

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I am deeply impressed by the relationships built in our field, sometimes from just one simple interaction at a Council event.

While serving as the CEO of an Indiana community foundation, I traveled out-of-state to a Council event in 2014 to be introduced to a colleague who, to this day, remains an important mentor and friend.

Nonprofit and philanthropic leaders renewed their call for preserving the Johnson Amendment, the longstanding law that protects their organizations from the divisiveness of partisan politics. The call comes as House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) used the National Prayer Breakfast to express support for repealing this important protection.