The title of the 2007 Council on Foundations community foundations conference, ‘Eureka! Learn, Lead, and Grow’, and the content of the sessions, indicates a marked shift in the tone of such events, away from the nuts and bolts of grantmaking to the need for community foundations to exercise community leadership. The conference, held in San Francisco 16-19 September, drew a record 1,818 participants and covered virtually all aspects of community foundation work, but the theme of leadership underlay most of the discussion.
It was reinforced by a report from the COF Leadership Team, entitled Community Foundations: Leadership multiplied, which stressed the need for community foundations to embrace new levels of leadership and urged them to multiply their efforts by acting as a unified field. The emphasis on community leadership also opens opportunities for exchange of experience between US and non-US community foundations. Most community foundations outside North America have only small assets and are struggling to become sustainable organizations. Yet they have experience that could inform the leadership work of their more established counterparts in the US.
Community foundation representatives from Canada, Northern Ireland, Slovakia and Zimbabwe discussed how community foundations can lead on issues of significance and shared innovative practices developed in their countries. Despite some obvious individual differences, it was apparent that community foundations everywhere are facing similar challenges and can therefore learn a lot from each other. But there was also a consensus that fostering civic engagement and participation is not an easy task and sometimes requires community foundations to take risks.
If this new focus in the US on community leadership continues, there will be a genuine opportunity for intensive dialogue among US and non-US community foundations on the essentials of their work. At a time of rapid social change worldwide, such a dialogue is more relevant than ever.