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The community foundation’s role in community philanthropy

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Liz Marenakos

Liz Marenakos

 [Publisher’s note: This article was provided by Blackbaud, a maker of fundraising software. Blackbaud is a PJ business partner.]

Liz Marenakos

What is the definition of community philanthropy?

A 2005 white paper by Lucy Bernholz, Katherine Fulton and Gabriel Kasper defined community philanthropy as “the practice of catalyzing and raising resources from a community on behalf of a community.”*

The paper went on to describe some possible future roles for community foundations in community philanthropy.

In this article we examine one community foundation’s response to the changing role of community foundations as they seek to differentiate themselves in an increasingly crowded and increasingly competitive landscape.

The competitive landscape for community foundations has changed dramatically since 1991. There are three main types of disintermediation pressures that community foundations have had to respond to over the past 20 years: commercial charitable gift funds, professional services firms which offer philanthropic services, and technology offerings that can connect donors directly with nonprofits.

In addition, the number of community-philanthropy type offerings also continued to grow – United Ways, federations, special-interest funds, healthcare-conversion foundations, geographically focused funds – to name a few.

All of these offerings forced, or provided an opportunity to, community foundations to examine their place in the philanthropic transaction between donors and the communities’ nonprofits, the doers.

The competitive pressures forced an assessment by each community foundation of where and how they could add value to the dialogue between the donors and the doers.

The foundations certainly had the donors and the foundation staff had deep knowledge of the nonprofits and the good they were doing in the community.

The second question that had to be asked was one of “who.” Who should we share our deep knowledge with? Should it be the community at large, regardless of whether someone had ever given to the foundation itself?

If the community foundation is considered as the primary repository of information about the efforts and accomplishments of our community’s nonprofits, is it furtherance of our mission to take this knowledge to a broader audience than our donors?

Per the definition above, will sharing our knowledge help catalyze giving in the community and raise more resources for community nonprofits?

The third question to be asked is one of how. What tools or methods  could a foundation use the to disseminate and share the expansive knowledge traditionally held within the four walls and, at the same time, rapidly expand the foundation’s constituency base to include populations not typically served today?

In addition, what tools or mechanisms would help the foundation validate the community’s perception of the work being done by the community nonprofits?

An additional nuance of the “how” question is how a foundation can quickly validate whether they have chosen the right tool or method to measure the value of sharing their knowledge more broadly.

If they want to reach a wider, more diverse audience, how can they tell if they have succeeded?

In addition, how can a foundation ensure that there was no public perception of bias in the information they want to share more broadly?

The Communities Foundation of Texas wrestled with all of these questions and envisioned a website that housed profiles of north Dallas nonprofits that donors and the public could use to research their particular are of interest and make a donation to the nonprofit of their choice.

The foundation branded this website Donor Bridge. In the interest of ensuring the largest community participation possible, the foundation partnered with The Dallas Foundation to offer matching funds, and the Dallas Center for Nonprofit Management to build profiles of nonprofits that work in the North Dallas area.

The nonprofit profiles provide details around the organization’s management, board, financials and programs and target populations.

The profiles are created by the nonprofits themselves with assistance from the Dallas Center for Nonprofit Management.

The Center offered classes for nonprofits to help them understand how to fill out the profiles. They also took their classes on the road to make sure they could reach a wide variety of North Texas nonprofits.

The foundation and its partners developed the concept of North Dallas Giving Day to rally the community around donating on a specific day so the nonprofit of their choice received matching funds.

Each of the nonprofits were given materials to engage their individual constituent bases. A carefully planned and executed marketing and public-relations campaign ensured the event was widely covered by the media.

The end result for the Second Annual North Texas Giving Day was greater than $5 million dollars raised in a 12 hour period from 7,000 donors.

The Communities Foundation of Texas has proved it can serve as a catalyst to galvanize community support for the nonprofits that support that community.

The foundation honed in on the added value they could bring to matching “doers and donors.”

They provided a mechanism that enabled them to reach new constituencies and populations that perhaps had been previously unaware of their work. They enlisted a broad cross-section of the community to publicize the event and drive participation.

The public’s response to their effort confirmed the value of their knowledge, not only because of the number of “eyes” that were on the Donor Bridge website on that day. The validation came through the fact that 7,000 donors actually “got up and gave” on September 8, 2010.

*”On the Brink of New Promise: The Future of US Community Foundations” Bernholz, Lucy; Fulton Katherine; Kasper, Gabriel. Blueprint Research and Design Inc and the Monitor Institute. 2005 http://www.communityphilanthropy.org/.


Liz Marenakos is director of product management at Blackbaud.

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