Community philanthropy organizations (CPOs) collect data for the purpose of donor compliance – numbers of grants awarded, people served, training sessions held, etc. What they don’t tend to collect are data on the other form of compliance: the extent to which they are actually doing what they promise – using community dynamics, leadership, knowledge, priorities and favoured ways of working to serve and strengthen communities. Collecting data is a necessary next step toward fulfilling that promise but research suggests that data on its own will not be enough to change behaviour.
The 2005 report, On the Brink of New Promise: the future of US community foundations argues that more often than not, foundations focus on their institutional sustainability rather than their core function of community strengthening, and calls for CPOs to remedy this.
There is a tension between the requirements of funders and the needs of communities. Institutional survival and growth depends, in a competitive funding environment, on meeting funders’ requirements. On the other hand, CPOs must secure a licence to operate by being responsive to community needs. These upward and downward pulls contribute to misalignment and present an operational and strategic challenge. So how can we assess the horizontal or vertical direction of CPO behaviour?
The question is, where will the impetus come from to put the community dynamic at the centre of community philanthropy? Should it be network and membership bodies committed to growing the field?