“A strong national network of community foundations is good for communities. Community foundations can be a constant source of good new ideas, local expertise, and financial support for local programs, if they have the capacity to pursue such a role.” This was the premise of the Leadership Program for Community Foundations, launched in 1987 by the Ford Foundation, with eight small community foundations as participants, each with less than $10 million in permanent assets.
Rainbow Research, Inc. was hired at the beginning of this project to discover how community foundations grow and develop given an opportunity like this, to become increasingly useful local institutions.
This series of magazines, modeled on “Inc. – The Magazine for Growing Companies” was distributed to all community foundations in the country, and was a big hit with staff and board members, with short and easily digestible articles loaded with constructive findings from the field. It helped legitimize the role of community foundations and helped educate a local activist and donor base.
Partly on the basis of such demonstrated findings, Ford was joined after two years by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and a second round of ten community foundations were added. Two years later, yet another nine were chosen. Their experience, written up in these 12 different articles, provide rich material for grantmakers, evaluators, nonprofits, and activists alike.
For Grantmakers: Providing many templates for growth this Leadership Program was launched at a time when fewer than 25 of the over 300 existing community foundations had assets over $25 million. Ford wanted to provide “a fast track for growth,” one that could be documented and replicated by other foundations. The strategy it chose was brilliant: accelerate the growth of participants’ discretionary assets at the same time as the community leadership skills, using a well-crafted program of incentives, support, time, and opportunities to learn from their colleagues. The results were far-reaching; almost all participating community foundations grew substantially in both these arenas – asset growth and community leadership skills – the one symbiotically helping the other. Many of today’s leading community foundations get their first (or sometimes, their second) big push through their participation in this program. Details of the design of this Program are given in our summary publication, Building Community Capacity: The Potential of Community Foundations.
For Evaluators: Helping the community foundation field as a whole learn from the ongoing experience of participants in this program was a high priority for the Ford Foundation. Both the evaluation and project management were geared in service of this goal. The evaluation made use from the start of a framework of areas for evaluation to track growth in four major areas of organizational capacity.” We developed this framework (shown in the 1989 Introduction below) in large part from earlier inquiries into effectiveness in the community foundation field, notably “Growth Factors for Community Foundations,” based on experience with the Council on Foundation’s program of Technical Assistance to Community Foundations; and “Supporting Low Income Neighborhood Organizations: A Guide for Community Foundations.” Both these programs of support for community foundations were created and funded by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. The Framework was introduced in visits to participating foundations during Year 1 of the Program, and pursued vigorously with visits in Year 2 and Year 5 (their last year of participation), with interviews on site with multiple stakeholders in the style of appreciative inquiry, and collections financial data. Findings were discussed around the table with all participants at the “annual sharing meeting” convened by Ford’s Project Director.
For Activists: The model for this program, as successful as it was, regrettably was never repeated, largely for reasons of bad timing. Just as the Program was ending, two critical things happened. One, staffing at Ford was altogether changed, resulting in massive loss of institutional memory. At the same time, a number of substantial commercial firms (such as Fidelity) started selling charitable check-writing services. This was perceived in the field as a threat of competition for the donor-advised funds that community foundations were selling. So to cut costs and compete on fees many community foundations jettisoned their nascent community leadership role. See “Where’s the Community in Community Foundations.” Fortunately, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, long a stalwart in its support of community foundations, has worked hard to reverse this misfortune and to re-establish the leadership role locally. And in my humble opinion, both the need and the opportunity for good leadership from community foundations has never been greater.
For Nonprofits: Community foundations are, of course, nonprofit organizations themselves, chartered as 501(c)3 organizations and serving as an intermediary between larger (and smaller) upstream funders, and smaller more local nonprofits engaged in making things happen at the community level. This leadership program greatly expanded and tightened the linkages among these in the regions where they operate, and many local nonprofits learned to position themselves to tap this funding stream and to grow in their own capacities.
CF Magazine – Findings from the Leadership Program for Community Foundations
1989 Introduction [download PDF]
1989 Growth Series [download PDF]
- To Board Members: “Help Make Opportunities Happen”
- Investing in Growth: It Takes Money to Make Money
- How to Raise $1 Million – and More – In Less Time Than You Think
1989 Community Leadership Series [download PDF]
- New Leadership Styles: It’s Not Just Grantmaking Anymore
- Choosing a Leadership Initiative: A Checklist of Considerations
- Elements of a Community Initiative: Getting Started
1990 Growth Series [download PDF]
- Where Does Administrative Money Come From?
- Growth Management: Transitioning From The “Mom and Pop” Community Foundation
- How To Build A Larger Endowment
1990 Community Leadership Series [download PDF]
- The Catalyst Role: “Sparking Change,” Not “Meeting Needs”
- Community Leadership: How To Tell When You’re Getting Somewhere
- Community Initiatives: Round 2 of the Leadership Program For Community Foundations
1991 Growth Series [download PDF]
- High Flying CFs: Post-Takeoff But Pre-Orbit
- Growth is Hard
- Managing the Money
1991 Community Leadership Series [download PDF]
- Community Leadership 102: Current Issues
- Bottom Lines For Community Foundation Initiatives
- The Third And Final Round
In 1994, we produced a free-standing publication, Building Community Capacity: The Potential of Community Foundations
Originally appeared: Publication of Rainbow Research, Inc.
Original dates: 1989, 1990, 1991
Author: Steven E. Mayer, Ph.D., then Executive Director, Rainbow Research, Inc.
Effective Communities Project