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2012 Council On Foundations Fall Conference

Lori Larson, GuideStar

The following is a post from Lori Larson, Senior Director, GuideStar USAGuideStar 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, learning, and sharing at all position levels, from executives to teams.

Last week I attended my fourth Council on Foundations Fall Conference in New Orleans. The conference began Monday morning with a high energy breakfast plenary with John Kania, Managing Director at FSG, Grant Oliphant, President and CEO at The Pittsburgh Foundation, and Vikki Spruill, President and CEO at Council on Foundations.

Although John’s remarks were focused on the results of FSG’s/CFInsight’s new donor-advised fund study, “Do More than Grow” and Grant’s remarks, “Designing What’s Next,” were focused on reimagining multiple designs of sustainable business models for community foundations, both presentations emphasized the critical message of each community foundation designing its own future and purpose based on the people and community it serves. This message includes bridging the gap between community foundation aspirations and practices and realization that sustainable value and purpose requires a full spectrum of innovation that goes well beyond “fixing” traditional revenue models.

Philanthropic and Donor Engagement

Both presentations explained the tension created when community foundations aspire to do more than grow assets and try to engage donors in community needs; thus increasing the size of “n” in the image below. This value proposition gets us back to the potential of influencing donor behavior for more effective and increased charitable giving and building stronger communities as presented in GuideStar’s Money for Good reports.

With the growing needs of communities, it is unfortunate that response and innovation to the now seven-year-old prediction of market disruptions and business model challenges has not been addressed more urgently; regardless, slow progress is being made. See my previous blogs here.

(Source: Bernholz, L., Fulton, K., & Kasper, G., 2005)

Literature and Community Leadership

Literature supports the critical purpose of community foundations. Ealy and Ealy (2006) explained that social problems and authentic reformation will not occur until new ways of engaging in philanthropy are implemented. These researchers described the historical trend to return social responsibility to local communities and away from bureaucratic entities, referring to this movement as progressive philanthropy. This new philanthropy is expected to contribute significant changes to current-day philanthropy, such as public-private partnerships, foundations and philanthropic enterprises that work toward institutional change, pragmatism, and decentralized knowledge sharing and plan coordination enabled through technology. An example of this is three DonorEdge Learning Community partners who received HUD awards for their outstanding work with public partnerships at the COF Fall Conference: Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee , The San Diego Foundation , and The Boston Foundation.

Another consistent theme at the COF Fall Conference was community leadership: What is it? Should we do it? How do we measure or justify our investment in it? Easterling (2011) addressed this same issue in the transitory role of community foundations as community leaders in civic engagement and public policy, conveners of diverse stakeholders, and innovation to solve community problems. Essentially, community foundations are becoming more proactive, public, and strategic in their philanthropy. This new role enables the community foundation to demonstrate its stewardship, impact, and value and purpose to its community. The Community Foundation Leadership Team at the Council on Foundations, a membership organization supporting all types of foundations, has been active in supporting the community foundation sector during this difficult, transitive time.

GuideStar is committed to supporting the community foundation sector in its goal of innovation toward unique purpose and value in serving people and communities. DonorEdge is a technology platform and mechanism to help community foundations “do more than grow” and “design what’s next.”

If you are interested in learning more about DonorEdge or the DonorEdge Learning Community, please contact me at


Bernholz, L., Fulton, K., & Kasper, G. (2005). On the brink of new promise: The future of U.S. community foundations. San Francisco: Blueprint Research & Design Inc., and Monitor Institute. Retrieved from

CF Insights. (2012). Do more than grow. Realizing the potential of community foundation donor-advised funds. Retrieved from

Ealy, L. T., & Ealy, S. D. (2006). Progressivism and philanthropy. Good Society Journal, 15(1), 35-42. Retrieved from Academic Search Complete

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