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The Role of Community Foundations in Change and Sustainability


GuideStar powers DonorEdge, a technology and knowledge platform for community foundations to encourage increased charitable giving and promote awareness of local needs and issues to donors and the community. Beyond technology, GuideStar is a partner with the DonorEdge Learning Community, a group of innovative community foundations that use DonorEdge in their work.

The vision of our partnership is a long-term commitment to inspire philanthropy, innovation, sustainability, and nonprofit sector building. We are a model of collaborative knowledge exchange at all position levels, from the executive suites to the teams.

Impact, Sustainability, and Organizational Change

Last week I attended the Council on Foundations Fall Conference, Steps, in San Francisco. Two strongly recurring themes during the three days of conference plenaries and concurrent sessions were impact and sustainability. These are certainly not new topics but they continue to present paralyzing challenges especially in the social sector as it continues to deal with changing market, socio-cultural, and economic pressures. One of my favorite quotes is from Jack Welsh, former General Electric CEO, “When the rate of change inside the organization is greater than the rate of change outside the organization, the end is near.” Regardless of whether you are a supporter of Mr. Welsh’s philosophy or not, the fact remains that change and sustainability are relational.

The demands on the social sector are large and community foundations play a critical role in its success. There are 700 community foundations in the US with $48 billion in charitable assets under their management. Community foundations geographically cover between 70-95 percent of the population they serve.

Risk, Uncertainty, and Leadership

As Jeff Pickering, president and CEO of Kern Community Foundation, a GuideStar DonorEdge Learning Community member, recently wrote, beyond steps and action, it takes leaders with “guts” and a tolerance for risk and uncertainty to meet the demands for change and sustainability. Risk and innovation, like change and sustainability, are also relational. Without risk, innovation cannot occur.

Finally, the sector must think differently about strategy design. Adaptability and resilience must be embedded in the strategy to achieve the vision. Sustainability models can develop differently and still achieve a shared vision, to which Emmett Carson, CEO of Silicon Valley Community Foundation, recently proposed.

The CEOs of the DonorEdge Learning Community have recognized and acted with “guts” on all these facts. While their strategies may be different, the drive toward sustainability and increasing charitable giving through their organizations is the same. They have created a vision for the desired future state of their organizations and have created an adaptive strategy to get there, using DonorEdge as the “spark plug.”

To learn more about GuideStar DonorEdge and the DonorEdge Learning Community, please visit

Lori_Larson.jpgThe preceding is a guest post by Lori Larson is senior director of GuideStar DonorEdge. Lori leads GuideStar’s market and product strategy for DonorEdge and is responsible for customer account management of the DonorEdge Learning Community. Prior to joining GuideStar, Lori worked for the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation, with her most recent position being director of knowledge development. 

Topics: Nonprofit Leadership and Practice Nonprofits Conference