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Celebrating the Accomplishments of Community Foundations for Positive Social Change

Yesterday we cross-posted a blog article from Greater Kansas City Community Foundation (GKCCF) celebrating and reflecting on the 10th anniversary of DonorEdge, originally created by GKCCF. As our CEO, Jacob Harold, stated, GuideStar is excited about continuing its investment and commitment to helping community foundations achieve their organizational strategies and unique potential of positive social change for their communities. Today’s blog post extends this conversation and presents highlights about the community foundation sector’s progress, challenges, and trending opportunities from a national perspective.

In September I attended my seventh Council on Foundations (COF) 2013 Fall Conference for Community Foundations in San Diego. Themes from the conference sessions, dialogue, and social media most prominent for me were:
  • collaboration;
  • data, information, and transparency;
  • experimentation and risk;
  • compassion and empathy;
  • technology;
  • storytelling; and
  • capacity building

These seven themes demonstrate progress, challenges, and opportunities for community foundation strategic leadership in the 21st century. These themes also demonstrate how community foundations are becoming leaders and conveners of hope. At COF 2013’s Tuesday breakfast plenary, “What’s Next for Community Philanthropy,” Vikki Spruill, President and CEO of COF, described how community foundations are critically important in building hope for their communities.

The community foundation sector is in the process of extending and transforming its traditional strategies and practices for contemporary, and sometimes drastically different, actions and results. The value and ROI of community foundations is no longer solely measured by financial investment results or transactional efficiency, although these core values are still important. See my previous blog posts for more on that topic.

During the same breakfast plenary, Gabriel Kasper of the Monitor Institute, facilitated a particularly attention-grabbing exercise. A set of 25 or so flash cards, printed with a wide variety of community foundation “orthodoxies,” were distributed to each table (groups of ten or so people). Each table’s assignment was to discuss the orthodoxies and decide if they were current practice or belief and if so, were they justified and did they provide current value to remain as practice or belief. Essentially, critical questions about community foundation comfort zones, which can be tough, uncomfortable conversations for a sector preparing to celebrate 100 years! A few of my favorite flash card questions (the liveliest conversations!) are below:

  • Our purpose is to create an endowment for the community.
  • We need DAFs (donor-advised funds) to be able to grow and prosper.
  • Donors will give us unrestricted dollars when they die.
  • Our competition is commercial gift funds.
  • Asset development is our key priority.
  • Money solves problems.
  • We should stay out of public policy.
  • Donors are our primary customers.

Outstanding dialogue was generated by this exercise! It was an exceptional opportunity for lively discussion about why we agreed or disagreed and provided a chance to share knowledge, experience, and lessons learned. I heard many individuals say they were so excited to replicate this exercise with their boards! These types of conversations can lead to the realization of incorrect or outdated orthodoxy and is an important initial step toward organizational change to achieve relevancy and value in the new social capital market. Although we talk about sector change as a whole and the impact of the work we do together, our organizations must change individually as well.

If you are interested in learning more about the progress, challenges, and opportunities of community foundations, two new books were recently published: Here for Good: Community Foundations and the Challenges of the 21st Century, edited by Terry Mazany and David C. Perry, and Align, Adapt, Aspire, by CFInsights. Both publications offer multiple case studies of innovative community foundations and contribute new knowledge to the field. Several of the case studies are GuideStar’s community foundation partners in the DonorEdge Learning Community (DELC).

The sea change occurring in the community foundation sector is no longer rhetoric but is observable across the field, albeit in different ways, at different speeds and timing, and different leadership strategies. The seven themes I took from COF 2013 are continuously in action, reflection, and improvement at community foundations that have adapted GuideStar DonorEdge, known as the DELC. These community foundations recognized early in the sea change the importance of embracing the future sooner rather than later and experimenting—in spite of the risk. The DELC has a wealth and depth of experience in strategic leadership and organizational change to increase philanthropy and affect positive social change in their communities.

GuideStar DonorEdge is the tool and mechanism that helped the DELC transform their organizations and communities and effectively achieve the seven prominent themes described above from COF 2013. The DELC uses GuideStar DonorEdge to:

  • Improve grantmaking, transparency, and nonprofit capacity building within their foundations and with funders, donors, and other community stakeholders to affect social change.
  • Improve and increase collaborative efforts to affect social change.
  • Streamline and improve technology efficiencies and applications for sustainability and resilience to affect social change.
  • Present knowledge through storytelling to donors and the community at large to affect social change.

With the upcoming celebration of the community foundation sector centennial, it is the perfect time for GuideStar DonorEdge to help your community foundation achieve its aspirations. GuideStar is so excited about its brand new, reinvented DonorEdge! We have a design and model to fit every community foundation’s needs. Please take a new, fresh look at DonorEdge! Please contact me, Lori Larson, senior director GuideStar DonorEdge,, to get started!

Lori LarsonLori Larson is senior director of GuideStar DonorEdge and is responsible for market and product strategy, business development, and customer relations for DonorEdge and the DonorEdge Learning Community. Prior to joining GuideStar, Lori worked for Greater Kansas City Community Foundation, leading teams including knowledge development, nonprofit outreach, and donor relations. 


Topics: Nonprofit Leadership and Practice