Community Foundations: Wondering How to Grow Your Asset Base?

The 4 Things You Must Do First

By Jamie Phillippe, CFRE, Vice President with Lieve Buzard, Client Service Associate

Growing the asset base of a community foundation means the foundation will have an even larger impact on the community it serves. With more assets and resources, the foundation is able to support more nonprofit organizations (or the same organizations at a higher level) and collectively solve community problems and increase the quality of life for community members.

Often times, community foundations run campaigns to increase gifts from individuals, families, and corporations. There are FOUR THINGS that a foundation must do prior to undertaking a campaign to increase its asset base.

Where does your foundation stand in relation to these four elements?

#1 Strategic Plan

A comprehensive strategic plan must be in place to provide a road map, to provide credibility, and to provide a sense of urgency to the entire effort.


  • Start with a visioning process, and think BIG
  • Follow strategic planning best practices
  • Involve selected board, staff and community leaders
  • Examine all areas of business for the foundation

#2 Board Readiness

The board must be in agreement and alignment with both the strategic plan and the specifics regarding the campaign.

It’s essential for your board to support all asset-building activities, from small initiatives to full-blown comprehensive campaigns. The board MUST agree with the community foundation’s direction, in order to serve as your ambassadors, cultivators and solicitors.


  • Be sure you have the right board members in place prior to launching a campaign
  • Board chairs or co-chairs should meet individually with each board member prior to launching a campaign.
  • If your board has standing committees, create a plan to involve each of the standing committees in the campaign.
  • Engage/train your board members early on in major gifts fundraising

#3 Infrastructure

A systematic review of your community foundation’s internal systems will be beneficial during the campaign as your team’s workload increases. Sound infrastructure also keeps processes running more smoothly, setting-up the community foundation to continue high quality work during and after the asset-building campaign. This includes:

  • Sufficient staffing, with the right skill sets, is necessary to support a campaign
  • Technology must be accurate and effective for tracking gifts, pledges and activity
  • Procedures and processes must be established to support a campaign
  • Gift acceptance and gift counting policies should be drafted and approved by the Board of Directors


  • Answer these questions:
    • Do you have enough staff?
    • Do they have the correct skill sets?
    • Which skills are needed at what point in the asset-building effort?
    • Do you have sufficient technology to support a campaign?
    • Is your donor database in order?

#4 Unique Value Proposition

Board members and other volunteer leadership often struggle to communicate the unique value proposition for a community foundation. The good news is that you do not have to create the unique value proposition from scratch.

There are about 800 community foundations in the United States and they all do very similar work.

Because community foundations serve a specific geographic region, they usually do not compete with each other, and are very collegial in sharing information and sharing what has worked for them.

What differentiates your community foundation from a commercial vendor?

– The foundation can help the donor make decisions about their own grantmaking, whereas a commercial vendor cannot.  The commercial vendor does not have staff that are making direct grants into the community and they do not know the nonprofit sector.

– The fees paid by the donor to the foundation are going to a nonprofit to help the nonprofit do their work. The fees paid by the donor to a commercial vendor are going to a corporate for-profit business.

– Giving through a community foundation, rather than directly to a non-profit organization, can allow the foundation to provide help and guidance regarding the grantee.

– Age and reputation of a community foundation can provide credibility as the foundation has learned more about the community throughout the years that can be helpful to the donor.


  • Answer these questions:
    • Why give through a community foundation rather than directly to a nonprofit organization?
    • What differentiates your community foundation from other entities offering donor advised fund programs?

These four elements allow community foundations to engage prospects and civic leaders in a successful fundraising effort that will impact their communities and provide for those who need help most. Focusing on these four elements prior to launching a campaign will set you up for great success!

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