Changes Community Foundations Make to Their Communities

Community foundations are modest in their claims about the impact that they have on their communities, though the evidence suggests that their main effects are in citizen involvement, linking up different parts of the community, increasing giving, and encouraging trust between people.

Changes community foundations make

(Activity area and the extent of impact)

Chart illustrating changes that community foundations make to their communities

Explanation of chart

People were asked to say what their perceptions of the changes community foundations were making in a number of categories. Their responses were classed as 'remarkably positive changes' (score 4), 'positive changes' (score 3), 'slightly positive changes' (score 2), 'no changes' (score 1), and 'negative changes' (score 0).

The chart shows the mean scores. All are between 2 (slightly positive changes) and 3 (positive changes). Rarely did people use the more extreme ratings. No one claimed that they were having a negative effect. Few claimed 'remarkably positive changes' either. When these occurred, they were in 'citizens being more involved' (16.7 per cent) and 'stronger linkages across the community' (13.9 per cent).

Such 'soft' outcomes are often seen as second class in a world where 'hard' issues of 'growth' and 'income' are seen as the most important outcomes. However, there is increasing recognition in some quarters that levels of trust are critical to the success of a community. There are few funders that concentrate on these soft outcomes, so these are important findings.


Community foundations were involved in a huge range of activities, including education, youth work, children's services, urban development, migrants' rights, disaster relief, and many others too numerous to classify. Some were involved in 'tough issues' such as criminal gangs and building peace.

This makes it difficult to assess the impact of community foundations since their work is specific to the context in which they operate. However, some common themes emerged.

A central theme, as suggested by the chart, was community involvement. For example, several community foundations ran 'Youth Banks', which give space for young people to take responsibility for development in their community. The Cluj Youth Bank Fund raises resources through special events and the sale of Christmas cards. Resources are then matched with local and national sponsors. In 2009, the Fund supported 17 youth led initiatives in the area of arts, culture, and the support for disadvantaged people.

A second strand was the development of partnership, bringing different parts of the community together that would normally not work together. For example, Odorheiu Secuiesc Community Foundation uses community cards with the local network of supermarkets and other local stores. While shopping, the customer receives a 1 per cent discount and a further 1 per cent is used to support a village kindergarten, Volunteers from the community foundation have signed up over 900 families. Everyone wins from such a partnership between local people, shops and a provider of children's education.

A third strand was the development of a 'self organizing society'. In helping to deal with a catastrophic flood, the Morogoro Municipal Community Foundation was seen to deal with the problems much faster than government agencies. Local people were proud that their leaders were able to mobilize so quickly and effectively, displaying a compassion that only insiders can have. In a similar example, Wabash Valley Community Foundation developed a coalition to lead recovery efforts following a major flood in 2008. The Foundation remains active in reconstruction efforts, and serves on the fundraising committee and executive committee.

Where next

We explore community engagement and participation further on the next page.