Why – and how – community foundations can link their work to the SDGs


Lev Fejes


With the halfway mark of the Goals’ just around the corner in 2023, it is evident that long-term progress on the targets set for 2030 are hampered by the need to fend off the latest crisis. Whether it is the pandemic, migration, or Russia’s war on Ukraine, SDGs are seemingly forced to take a back seat in solving more pressing problems. In this context, it is imperative to (re)examine the role that community foundations, and local communities in general, have in achieving the United Nations (UN) SDGs.

Nonprofits have long been at the forefront of solving the world’s social, economic, and environmental challenges, stepping in where the market and state have failed. Consequently, given the current lag in achieving the SDGs, NGOs could play an instrumental role scaling up work towards the 169 targets the Goals entail. Indeed, the achievement of these ambitious goals, may not even be possible without civil society.

Community foundations, in particular, can play a vital role in achieving the 2030 Agenda. The Council of Foundations Report goes even further, claiming that ‘SDGs cannot be reached without the involvement of community foundations[1]. Given the core mission of community foundations to mobilize resources and collaboration across communities for transformative and sustainable change, the work of all community foundations is highly relevant to the SDGs. In addition, although the 17 SDGs –the blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all – represent a global agenda, they require local action to achieve them. In this context, community foundations, being well positioned and equipped to bring a wealth of knowledge to driving change locally, can act as leaders in the process of creating local solutions to global problems.

There is indication that more and more community foundations are exploring the means of connecting their work to a broader and ambitious global agenda in their local context. Luckily, there is an abundance of tools, guides, and reports that foundations can use to guide that effort. One such guidebook provides a detailed introduction to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the context of community foundation engagement and philanthropy, providing practical, real-life examples of SDG-based work in local community foundations, as well as ideas and steps for aligning current community foundation work with the SDGs. Similarly, the European Community Foundations Initiative (ECFI) report outlines 10 easy steps that community foundations can follow in adopting the SDGs as a framework.

Using these tools community foundations can prepare themselves to use the SDGs as

  1. a frame and guide for their local work,  
  2. a way of connecting and aligning with other key stakeholders and partners,
  3. a catalyst for planning, implementing their work,
  4. measuring and managing their impact, as well as
  5. efficiently communicating these to their key stakeholder environment.

This can be done without asking funders or grantees to change the way they work, as changes can be as simple as asking all grant applicants to identify in their applications whether their project or program already supports one or more of the SDGs. While actions such as the one described above do not require a drastic change, they may drive change in both stakeholder environments.

However, as indicated by the ECFI report, the alignment with the SDSs and the utilization of this framework to guide the work of the foundations varies greatly by geography. In the case of European CFs, despite the efforts of some community foundations support organizations and CFs (notably UKCF), community foundations do not prioritize the relevance of the SDGs for their day-to-day work. This is a significant shortcoming, as European community foundation risk by neglecting the SDGs to ignore the needs and priorities of their corporate partners and of their local communities.

Environmental, social, and corporate governance criteria (ESGs) and SDGs are increasingly becoming important for not only for investors and corporates, corporate social investors and the wider public alike! Current and upcoming European legislations (such as the SFDR, CSRD, Social Taxonomy, Environmental Due Diligence Directive, etc.) are also shifting an increased focus to areas covered by the SDGs.

We can observe a trend where key actors for lives of local communities are increasingly connecting their work to the SDGs – including businesses and local governments. This requires a re-positioning and re-focus of the CFs on the SDGs if they are to remain relevant in their local contexts.

Therefore, European community foundations should:

  1. explore and better understand the intersections of the SDGs with their and their grantee’s ongoing programs and initiatives,
  2. design their new programs with the SDGs in mind, using these as a framework for developing community-level solutions to global challenges,
  3. connect their work with the needs and priorities of their corporate (social investor) partners,
  4. use the SDGs to measure and communicate their impact.

In addition, Community foundations should look wider in their immediate ecosystem and identify intersectionalities with other local partners such as municipalities, local businesses, and other community actors. They may find the SDG framework can act as a common denominator, a shared language that places seemingly competing goals into a shared agenda that can foster collaboration and collective action.

Lev Fejes is the Corporate Initiative Research Manager at EVPA.


  1. ^ Cheney, C. (2018) What role can community foundations play in achieving the SDGs?

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