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Community Foundations: How Organizational Change Results in Positive Community Change, Part 1

This blog is part of a series of conversations with executives from leading community foundations who are stepping out of their traditional, risk-averse roles and stepping up to affect positive social change. Watch your email for an invitation to join us for an interactive GuideStar webinar with these community foundation leaders. To read Lori's articles on How Building Community Knowledge Can Facilitate Successful Organizational Change and Community Impact for Community Foundations, click here and here.

The below is Part 1 of a conversation was between Lori Larson, Senior Director Community Philanthropy, GuideStar, and Susie Bowie, Vice President Philanthropic Education and Marketing, Community Foundation of Sarasota County. Click here to read Part 2.

Context and History:

A few years ago the Community Foundation of Sarasota County (CFSC) experienced an executive leadership change. Based on a community needs survey that incorporated the voices of citizens, nonprofits, and philanthropically-minded individuals, CFSC’s new leadership established a fresh, new, organizational change and strategic direction with a focus on bringing together people who care deeply about the community and the organizations that serve the community to achieve measurable community impact. CFSC also began providing needs-based training, support and consultation to local nonprofits for measurable improvements in nonprofit effectiveness in governance, fundraising, and marketing for affecting social impact.

The Environment:

Lori: How did you come to recognize the need for organizational change and new strategies at the Community Foundation?

Susie: A day rarely passes when the staff of the Community Foundation of Sarasota County doesn’t internalize the privilege and responsibility of making recommendations and decisions about philanthropic investments in our community. Considering the number of choices in our charitable marketplace, we contemplate our decisions within the realm of hundreds of local nonprofits serving people, places, animals and issues important to us and to our donors.

The old model of viewing nonprofit “deservingness” for support is heavily dependent upon expense allocations, weighing staff salaries, comparisons of administrative and fundraising ratios to program expenses, and other factors that tell us little about whether an organization is actually effective.

It’s time to change that. This song is a familiar tune for the scores of nonprofit leaders who have been followers of Dan Pallotta’s messages through his Ted Talk and visits to communities around the country. We are ready for givers of all demographics to help dispel what we have all come to know as the “Overhead Myth,” the belief that financial ratios are the sole indicator of nonprofit performance.

The Change Process and Current State:

Lori: What were the most effective changes made in achieving organizational change and your new, strategic goals?

Susie: One tool has significantly shifted the way we consider our choices for giving and how we can share knowledge with our donors. Its implementation has led to a more comprehensive look at nonprofits, focusing on leadership, diversity, strategy, needs, short and long-term impact of programs and services, as well as financial stability.

In March 2012, we publicly released The Giving Partner that allows local organizations to complete in-depth profiles about their results, needs and infrastructure so that anyone who makes decisions about giving their time, talent or treasure can understand the full context of what’s out there.

Lori: Were there stakeholders inside or outside of the Foundation that believed this organizational change was too risky or too difficult?

Susie: Implementing this tool involved a culture change at our Foundation—restructuring our staff, adapting to a new system to inform our services for nonprofits, and changing some of the ways in which we work with donors to share opportunities about philanthropy. This shift also required the trust, commitment and understanding of nonprofits who have taken the time to create and update profiles.

To be frank, adapting had its challenges, as all change does. Although Community Foundation stakeholders and our partners in the community had expressed a need for comprehensive, up-to-date information about our vast nonprofit marketplace, there was great discussion about how we might accomplish this. Some donors had asked for a rating system in which the Foundation would somehow evaluate organizations and publish our “findings,” but we do not believe this to be our role. Rather, we strive to empower donors to make informed choices based on what is important to them.

The Giving Partner was the right direction for us, and everyone stepped up—including original funding partners that brought our community together around transparency and public access to good information—Community Foundation of Sarasota County, The Patterson Foundation, Manatee Community Foundation and Gulf Coast Community Foundation.

Lori Larson Lori Larson

Lori Larson is senior director of community philanthropy and responsible for GuideStar’s market and product strategy, business development and customer relations for community philanthropy products. Prior to joining GuideStar, Lori worked for the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation, leading teams including knowledge development, nonprofit outreach, and donor relations. Previous to her foundation work, Lori was the operations manager of a multi-entity oil and gas corporation in Houston, Texas, and was assistant publisher of a software company in Shreveport, Louisiana. Lori holds a B.A. in Economics, With Distinction, from the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and an MBA in Finance from Baker College Center for Graduate Studies. Lori holds a Ph.D. (ABD) in Leadership and Organizational Change from Walden University. Her dissertation, “Adaptive Business Models for Community Foundation Resilience,” is in progress with anticipated full doctorate graduation in 2015. You may reach Lori directly at

Topics: Senior Executive Issues