Blog post by Lieve Hendren (3.5 minute read)
In the face of unprecedented challenges brought by COVID-19 and calls for racial justice, Community Foundations stand at a pivotal juncture. In this blog, Senior Consultant Lieve Hendren, CFRE, ACC, C-SHRM delves into seven strategic approaches Community Foundations can adopt to amplify their influence and steer their communities toward lasting positive change.
This is your moment.
Right now, Community Foundations across the country face a liminal point in their role within their communities. Many Community Foundations stepped up to the task of becoming first responders when widespread COVID-19 lockdowns affected their communities. These shutdowns expanded economic hardships, food insecurity, difficulties accessing healthcare, educational disruptions, and other unprecedented community-wide challenges in the immediate and short-term, while a call for racial justice swept across the nation.
Local crises sparked by shutdowns raised the visibility of what a Community Foundation is: a unique organization dedicated to convening community resources, supporting their local nonprofit ecosystem, and addressing specific needs.
In times of crisis, the big-picture perspective that Community Foundations have and the deep understanding of their community’s needs play a crucial role in streamlining service delivery and immediate response. Not to mention that a major takeaway from The Giving Institute’s 2023 Annual Report on Philanthropy in America shows Foundation giving growing steadily despite a decline in the total dollar amount of giving across nonprofit sectors in 2022.
It’s up to each Community Foundation to seize this moment for continued impact. As a Community Foundation leader, you may be wondering how your organization can take advantage of this heightened awareness.
Here are seven ways you can leverage this moment and increase your impact.
1. Lean into your role as convenors, aggregators and educators
In my experience, many fundholders and donors do not fully understand the breadth and depth of services offered by Community Foundations. Community Foundations can build momentum by educating their donors about their various strategic roles.
Their role as community convenors allows them to serve as neutral arbitrators amid extreme polarization of political beliefs. Another role they serve is as aggregators of local knowledge through reliable research data and diverse stories making them the heart and soul of a thriving community. Finally, their role as educators allows them to teach an engaged audience about the work that they do in the community – above and beyond immediate crisis response – and to expand on philanthropic solutions to prospective donors.
2. Keep your ears (and doors) open.
One way that we at Alford Group exemplify this is by practicing strengths-based messaging. Strengths-based messages center the voices of those community members being served—and they are essential to your cause. Donors turn to Community Foundations to collect these stories and bring together the under-represented voices of their communities.
From formal town halls and convenings to informal conversations, it’s crucial to prioritize ways to bring people together and provide brave spaces for authentic community stories to be shared. Everyone has a story to tell; most of us just need the right platform to share them.
3. Connect your funders with your nonprofit leaders.
One important question to ask ourselves here is: Are you taking the time to strategically weave your network?
One donor at a Community Foundation shared that one of the most impactful educational sessions she ever attended was a brainstorming workshop led by a table of diverse and approachable leaders. It truly made an impression on her experience and thereby her approach to advocacy for the Foundation.
This type of programming gives your nonprofit grant making partners opportunities to shine a light on the incredible work you are doing. And, let’s face it, It never hurts to create more touchpoints for cultivating meaningful, authentic relationships with your donors.
4. Be bold in your thought leadership.
Donors expect more data from Community Foundations than from traditional nonprofits. Community Foundations are valued for their role in creating new dialogue and synthesizing original research.
With that, it’s important to consider opportunities to partner with local universities or other research entities to further your credibility and show off your organization’s capacity to innovate. Show your donors that your organization is a thought leader and that their contribution is fueling that edge.
5. Accessibility, accessibility, accessibility.
Given that foundations have a reputation for educating philanthropists, civic leaders and residents alike, having information and knowledge-sharing that is accessible is key. Foundations shed light on issues that might fly under the radar and provide a comprehensive, holistic window into the community. With that in mind, it’s important to distill community research into easy-to-read, easy-to-digest pieces of content.
Content should be understandable for everyone – from someone familiar with the issue to a budding next gen philanthropist. Keep your communications accessible, concise and simple to make sure all stakeholders have access to the benefits of your work.
6. Emphasize your nonprofit status in your value proposition.
Recently, I was having coffee with a professional advisor and told this professional advisor that the fees at a Community Foundation DAF strengthen the community by supporting the foundation’s work, including grantmaking and thought leadership research. This professional advisor was surprised because he was so used to having his clients compare Community Foundation management fees with the management fees of big investment houses.
Unlike traditional investment houses like Vanguard and Fidelity, Community Foundations don’t make a profit from management fees – those fees are re-invested into the community by funding foundation operations. Communicating this value proposition with clarity and frequency empowers philanthropists to maximize the impact of their giving.
7. Spotlight your successes.
Are you streamlining and coordinating active partnerships? Don’t be shy about raising visibility and awareness by highlighting these successful partnerships and your partnership roles. This is a win-win situation: it excites donors to see growing relationships and it further positions your Community Foundation as a thought leader.
It’s time to step into the limelight.
Overall, most communities are still relying on Community Foundation leadership to rebound from pandemic-related issues, including economic uncertainty with rapidly fluctuating cost of living from high inflation, job insecurity, and the long-term mental health effects of severe social isolation.
At this critical juncture, nonprofits and citizens are increasingly looking for opportunities to convene and proactively strengthen the fabric of their communities for sustained flourishing and equal access for all.
Now’s the moment for Community Foundations to step into the limelight and convene residents toward greater change through a new wave of giving. Leverage this moment and implement these seven strategies to expand the impact of your Community Foundation toward a brighter future for generations to come.
Want to gain more knowledge about how to maximize your impact as a Community Foundation? Learn more about Giving by Foundations: Trends & Insights.