This book collects the proceedings of an international symposium organized by the Bertelsmann Foundation in March 1999. It is one of the very few books that deal with community foundations that is not a handbook. Even if the first community foundation was established in Cleveland in 1914, it is a very young field, which has concentrated all its efforts in trying to grow as fast as possible but has found very little time to reflect upon itself. Until now one could count on the fingers of one hand the number of publications that are not simply trying to answer how-to questions.
Written in English and German, this book is also an important witness to the development of community foundations in continental Europe. Faced with the challenges arising from very different cultures and legal frameworks, community foundations need to ask themselves new questions about their purpose. It is simply not enough to identify best practices and to grow at an ever faster rate. It is becoming every day more important to better define the identity of the field.
This is probably the reason for the success of the international programmes designed to foster worldwide the community foundation field. The most important of these, the Transatlantic Community Foundation Network, was actually announced during the 1999 symposium. While the Americans can share experience and knowledge, the Europeans are challenging many assumptions, and it is therefore possible to develop a better understanding of mission and purpose.
The contributions of Suzanne Feurt, Shannon St John, Peter Hero and Lewis Feldstein are not simply describing the American model. Because of their international experience, their approach reflects an awareness of the complexity of the non-American world and the realization that that one cannot simply export the US model. What is really important is not the model but the underlying idea. On the other side, Rupert Strachwitz and Helga Bickeböller describe the tradition that community foundations should understand if they want to play a role in Germany. Gaynor Humphreys, from Great Britain, functions as a kind of bridge between North America and continental Europe.
Community foundations are much more than a source of money. In fact, they can grow only if they develop a more sophisticated mission, understanding that they are a unique instrument to foster philanthropy and civic engagement and that the money comes only afterwards.
Bernardino Casadei is managing a project to introduce community foundations in Italy. He can be contacted by email at email@example.com
Community Foundations in Civil Society/Bürgerstiftung in der Zivilgesellschaft
Edited by Peter Walkenhorst
Bertelsmannn Foundation DM28/15 euros/$16
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