During the past decade the community foundation concept has spread rapidly around the globe. In continental Europe, much of this growth has taken place in the past six years. The first German community foundation, for example, was established in 1996; the first Polish and Russian ones in 1998; the first Italian one in 1999. In 1999, too, the Bertelsmann and Mott Foundations jointly established the Transatlantic Community Foundation Network (TCFN) to support the exchange of experience and expertise among European and North American community foundations.
During its first three years of existence, TCFN has created a unique forum for information exchange and learning, which has been particularly helpful in countries where the community foundation concept is unknown or still new. This shared learning has helped demonstrate how the American model can be adapted to suit differing cultural, societal and legal environments and encouraged the North American institutions involved to rethink some of their assumptions about community leadership, asset development, governance and grantmaking.
The different governance structures established by European community foundations illustrate well how adaptable the community foundation concept is. In contrast to the Anglo-American model of a single board which is responsible for all strategic and executive decisions, community foundations in Germany, Italy and Poland have a set of different governing bodies integrated into a system of checks and balances. German community foundations, for example, have at least two boards: an Executive Board with strategic and executive responsibilities and a Supervisory Board which oversees its activities. This model of governance basically reflects the structure of German corporate boards. A similar governance structure can be found in Poland, where an Executive Board exists alongside an Audit Committee whose main responsibility is to guarantee due diligence and transparency of all financial procedures.
In Italy, overall responsibility for all operations of the community foundation rests with a Board of Directors, which elects an executive subcommittee, the Executive Board, to manage the day-to-day activities. These two bodies are monitored by a Board of Internal Auditors, while the Conflict Resolution Board arbitrates and mediates controversies between the different governing bodies as well as between donors and the foundation. The underlying rationale for having these different governing bodies (which are unique to community foundations) is to establish a variety of internal control mechanisms in order to ensure the utmost degree of transparency and accountability.
This ability to reinvent itself is probably the greatest strength of the community foundation model. Although first invented in the US, it is no longer a uniquely American concept. It has developed into a truly international model, which provides the framework for the development of community-based philanthropy around the world.
1 The Bertelsmann and Mott Foundations have agreed to support TCFN for another three-year period (2002-2005).
Peter Walkenhorst is Director, Philanthropy and Foundations at the Bertelsmann Foundation. He can be contacted at email@example.com
German foundations join forces to support community foundations
The Stadt Stiftung Gütersloh, founded in 1996, was Germany’s first community foundation. Since then more than 35 community foundations have been successfully established within Germany, with total assets amounting to 11.5 million euros. With so many community foundations still in the start-up phase, there is a great need for consultation and assistance in such areas as organizational development, project management and asset development.
In late 2001, therefore, a consortium of leading private foundations joined forces to create a support structure for community foundations – the Community Foundations Initiative (Initiative Bürgerstiftungen). The trust fund they established is administered by the Bertelsmann Foundation, which also provides staffing and management to the project.
Based in Berlin, the Initiative serves as a main source of reference for community foundations in Germany, pooling the know-how and expertise of all project partners.
In addition to helping professionalize the work of existing community foundations, it aims to promote the establishment of new ones – it provides administrative support grants to infant community foundations – and to publicize the community foundation concept.
1 Bertelsmann Foundation (Gütersloh), Association of German Foundations (Berlin), Koerber Foundation (Hamburg) and Klaus-Tschira Foundation (Heidelberg). The project is also supported by the C S Mott Foundation and the Federal Ministry of family affairs, senior citizens, women and youth.
For more information contact Project Director Alexandra Schmied.
Tel +49 30 897 452 40
Fax +49 30 897 452 44