Community Foundations Hall of Fame celebrates ten outstanding initiatives


Aaron Dorfman

Aaron Dorfman

Aaron Dorfman

We all know our sector too often falls short of our own highest aspirations. So it is even more important to celebrate excellence when we see it. Many community foundations work with underserved communities, partnering with non-profits, and using high-impact strategies to marshal their limited resources to address root causes of societal problems.

Honorees for the ‘Community Foundations Hall of Fame’ were selected by NCRP staff, following an open call for public nominations, and presented at the Council on Foundations’ 2013 Fall Conference for Community Foundations. The aim was to show ten examples of admirable and replicable initiatives by community foundations that are courageously leading and truly benefiting those who have the least wealth, opportunity and power.

So here they are, in no particular order – the ten best things NCRP has seen from community foundations in the recent past.

Marin Community Foundation, for commissioning research on disparities

The Marin Community Foundation leveraged its resources to commission a truth-telling report, A Portrait of Marin, modelled after the groundbreaking Human Development Index. The report explains in sometimes shocking detail how disparities of gender, wealth, ethnicity, etc in Marin County limit opportunities, and offers 13 ideas for a way forward.

Silicon Valley Community Foundation, for fighting predatory pay-day lenders

Since 2009, the foundation has been providing about a half a million dollars annually in grants to organizations that are raising public awareness about predatory lending practices and promoting regulations that curb their growth. Last year, the foundation’s grantees successfully advocated for tough new ordinances in San Jose, Los Altos, Menlo Park and other cities and counties in their jurisdiction to prevent the expansion of predatory pay-day lenders and help working families avoid exploitation.

Foundation for Louisiana, for investing in citizen engagement

The foundation invests heavily in advocacy and an engaged citizenry, insisting on a transformative approach to grantmaking. NCRP was especially impressed with the foundation’s TOGETHER Initiative, designed to promote equity in New Orleans planning and development activities. Few community foundations truly engage the grassroots so well.

Cleveland Foundation, for leveraging reputation for LGBTQ equality

Leadership by community foundations is about more than just grantmaking, and I was particularly impressed with how the Cleveland Foundation paired its grant dollars with its reputational capital. In April of this year, the Cleveland Foundation awarded a $250,000 grant to Gay Games 9, forming a partnership that made the foundation the top sponsor of the Games. This is the first presenting sponsorship in the Games’ 31-year history. The foundation took a strong stand in favour of social justice and equality.

Greater New Orleans Foundation, for promoting equity in rebuilding New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina

GNOF’s IMPACT programme prioritizes organizations that focus on the underserved and populations in greatest need, have equity as part of the organizations’ core values, involve members of the community in key leadership roles and conduct advocacy and grassroots organizing to identify long-term solutions. Meanwhile, the foundation’s Community Revitalization Fund ‘supported the building and rehabilitation of 9,500 new affordable housing units in New Orleans’, while their Metropolitan Opportunities Initiative helps their grantee partners ‘advocate for transit riders, training community organizers, designing more efficient and equitable regional transit systems, and more’. 

The Boston Foundation, for winning transportation equity

Over a period of many years, the Boston Foundation invested millions in advocacy and community development in communities ignored by the public transit system. This year, it saw the opening of one of three new stations in a part of Boston that has been without public transit for decades. The foundation has made an additional $10 million commitment to ensure that the expanded transit access results in equitable development opportunities for the people who live there, rather than allowing gentrification to push out the residents.

California Community Foundation, for championing immigration reform

The California Community Foundation (CCF) has done exemplary work including immigrants and championing the issues that affect them. CCF founded the Council on Immigrant Integration, which brings together stakeholders from multiple sectors to increase public awareness of the positive contributions of immigrants. Since 2011, CCF has focused on promoting civic participation in immigrant communities, primarily through convening, leadership development and policy advocacy campaigns. Of particular note is that the foundation’s grantees played a key role in helping pass the DREAM Act in California, creating opportunity for young people to attend college. The foundation also spearheaded important work encouraging legal permanent residents to become citizens.

East Bay Community Foundation, for convening leaders of disparate groups

Community foundations are in a unique position to take on the challenging and rewarding task of convening disparate groups around a common cause for an underserved community. The East Bay Community Foundation used a combination of data and stories in its study Putting the East Bay to Work: Sustainable jobs for the underemployed to build relationships among different groups that experience barriers to employment (such as English language learners, formerly incarcerated, someone who aged out of the foster care system, and/or someone with low levels of education and/or learning disabilities) and identify solutions.

North Star Fund, for reaching the grassroots after disasters

After Hurricane Sandy, the most vulnerable and marginalized residents of New York weren’t being reached or helped by the mainstream disaster relief organizations. So the North Star Fund created the Grassroots Hurricane Relief Fund. They gave about $400,000 in grants to 37 groups – many of them community organizing groups that had deep ties to their communities.

Minnesota Community Foundation, for increasing giving

In November 2009, the Minnesota Community Foundation launched GiveMN, in partnership with 14 other funders, to grow overall giving and encourage more of it online. Since then, GiveMN has facilitated over $75 million in donations to Minnesota non-profits and schools. Some 210,000 individual donors gave to 7,400 organizations in 87 Minnesota counties. Nearly half of all Minnesota non-profits report that GiveMN is their primary online giving vehicle.

Many community foundations are risk-averse and seem to work harder to please their donors than to tackle tough problems in their communities. These are notable exceptions. For more information about them, click here.

What great work have you seen community foundations doing in your community? 

Aaron Dorfman is executive director of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, the only independent watchdog and critic of foundations in the US. Christine Reeves provided essential research assistance for this project.

Tagged in: Community foundations Council on Foundations USA

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