CF – The Magazine for Growing Community Foundations

By Steven E. Mayer, Ph.D

A strong national network of growing 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 the essential elements of growing community foundations given an opportunity like the one Ford Foundation offered. 

A Fast Track for Growth

From the beginning, our evaluation efforts were geared to producing more immediate results, hot off the press.  After concluding our site visits during Year 2 of the Program’s five–year participation period, we produced a magazine, CF: The Magazine of Growing Community Foundations.  Modeled on Inc: The Magazine of Growing Businesses, its production was consistent with Ford’s intention to provide “a fast track for growth.” 

Ultimately 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.  

This series of magazines 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 fueled a surge in new, emerging, and rapidly growing community foundations.   

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.

Our final report on this Leadership Program, entitled “Building Community Capacity: The Potential of Community Foundations,” was written as the second round of community foundations was approaching the end of its participation.  The report can be downloaded from its own introductory article, here.

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The strategy Ford chose in creating this program was brilliant: provide a program structure with incentives to accelerate the growth of participants’ discretionary assets at the same time as they could develop their community leadership skills.  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 got their first (or sometimes, their second) big push through their participation in this program. 

Details of how participants grew in response to the structure of the program, and a critique of the constructive elements of program design that Ford incorporated into the program, are given in our concluding publication, Building Community Capacity: The Potential of Community Foundations.

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 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 to participants in the Ford program during 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.

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.

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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

Participating community foundations

Round 1

Arizona Community Foundation

Dade Community Foundation

Dayton Foundation

El Paso Community Foundation

Community Foundation of Greater Greenville

Community Foundation of Greater Memphis

Rochester Area Foundation

Community Foundation for Southeastern Michigan

Round 2

Baltimore Community Foundation

Community Foundation of Greater Lorain County

Madison Community Foundation

Greater New Orleans Foundation

Central New York Community Foundation

Greater Richmond Community Foundation

Spokane Inland Northwest Community Foundation

East Tennessee Foundation

Greater Triangle Community Foundation

Tucson Community Foundation

Round 3

Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro

Delaware Community Foundation

Duluth-Superior Area Community Foundation

Fargo-Moorhead Area Foundation

Greater Santa Cruz County Community Foundation

Maine Community Foundation

Rockford Community Trust

Sacramento Regional Foundation

Vermont Community Foundation


How to cite this cover article: Mayer, Steven E. CF: The Magazine for Growing Community Foundations – A New Introduction.  Minneapolis: Effective Communities Project. Downloaded from EffectiveCommunities.com, [month, date, year]. 

Our original publication supported by the Ford Foundation can be cited this way: Mayer, Steven E., CF: The Magazine for Growing Community Foundations.  Minneapolis: Rainbow Research, Inc., 1989, 1990, 1991.