by David Tandet
Community foundations are tax-exempt public charities.
As the name implies, their goal is to benefit specific regions, and the way they work is that individuals, families, and organizations establish permanent funds. These funds form the economic structure of the foundation. Money is distributed by the foundations through various means, one of which is competitive grantmaking.
While the specific philanthropic goals of the participants may vary, each of them, ultimately, seeks to help a particular community. That’s why the name of a foundation often includes the name of the community it serves.
For example, the Ventura County Community Foundation, located in the city of Camarillo, California, exists for the benefit of Ventura County. The California Community Foundation, started in 1915, is primarily concerned with the welfare of Los Angeles. It began in 1915 when Los Angeles was already a thriving area.
One of the questions often asked is, “Why would a philanthropist work with a community foundation? Why wouldn’t a family simply work on its own?” And the answer is that there are those who choose to give in that manner.
Often, however, the fact that community foundations have unsurpassed knowledge of the specific needs of the areas they serve makes them a logical choice for helping a certain area. A proactive community foundation has its fingers on the pulse of an area. It is aware of the nonprofit activity taking place in its community. It has the knowledge and resources to help accomplish the philanthropic goals of a nonprofit. It does its best to ensure that a community’s nonprofits work in a synergistic relationship for the benefit of all.
Community foundations are overseen by volunteer boards of community leaders, and are guided by professionals who have knowledge of, and experience dealing with, the various issues facing the places they serve.
The most established foundations provide ongoing educational programs. In fact, they’re one of the few places to get good training on issues that relate to the care and feeding of nonprofits. These empower local nonprofits in various ways such as providing research assistance, hosting grant writing workshops, and building strategic alliances among area organizations. They help nonprofit boards. The Ventura County Community Foundation’s Center for Nonprofit Leadership, for example, provides programs that serve over 2,500 participants annually.
Communities need help, more than ever before, helping those who need help.
That is why community foundations are playing a significant role, more than ever before, in helping their communities.
The specific roles of various foundations in communities across America will be further explored in future postings.