Building Community Capacity: The Potential of Community Foundations

How small community foundations can get bigger, stronger, and more useful to their communities.

“Building Community Capacity: The Potential of Community Foundations” tells how small community foundations can get bigger, stronger, and more useful to their communities.  Endorsed as essential reading in the field, this small book summarizes the work of the Ford/MacArthur Leadership Program for Community Foundations.  Operating from 1987 to 1993, this initiative is the best I’ve seen at incorporating principles of growth and leadership development.  The book details these features and contains lessons for making community foundations bigger, stronger, and more useful to their communities. 

  • Effective Philanthropy: This book shows how an established private foundation can stimulate the growth of less established and more local community foundations.  The book makes clear how the Ford Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation did it in this highly productive initiative.  They incentivized community leadership by dangling a meaningful financial match on favorable terms, offering long-ish term support and assistance, and sharing the learnings of an on-going program evaluation.
  • Community Development: The concept of community capacity emerged from the experience of this program.  We see it as “the combined influence of a community’s commitment, resources, and skills which can be deployed to build on community strengths and address community problems.”  Increasing community capacity should be on the agenda of every community foundation.
  • Program Evaluation: This evaluation inquiry made use of an “organizational capacity building framework” based on earlier discoveries of growth factors in emerging community foundations.  With every site visit, both participants and evaluators filled in the framework with data and observations over a five-year period.
  • Nonprofit Management: Almost every community in America, and throughout the world, has a community foundation eager to import project dollars and distribute them to nonprofits in support of local goals.  This book shows how local nonprofits can make themselves attractive to such community-focused grantmaking.


Free download: Building Community Capacity: The Potential of Community Foundations (pdf)

See also: CF – The Magazine for Growing Community Foundations

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


This cover article revised 7/8/2019.

Publication originally by Rainbow Research, Inc.

Number of pages: 222    Original date: 1994

Author: Steven E. Mayer, Ph.D.