Program Strategies

Community foundations mounted diverse program strategies of which making grants was one component.

More than money

Providing grants is an important feature of a community foundation, but equally important are other program strategies.

In Germany, for example, the majority of community foundations run their own projects instead of supporting other people’s projects (though many do both). The strategy is to give a good example of how citizens take active responsibility for their communities. Concrete examples include mentoring projects in Hamburg and Berlin for children whose parents are migrants and volunteers helping children to read.

The Coalition of Social Development Organizations in South Cotabato gives priority to the environment. Programs include environmental rehabilitation and protection of the Mount Matutum Protected Landscape; building the enterprise skills and capacities of rice and lowland farmers through community-based enterprises and environmental regeneration of the Roxas Mountain Range; and promoting bio-diversity conservation in the Allah Valley.

A 'Heart for Limburg' promotes understanding of solidarity and human needs with school children by collaborating with a Publishing House to produce three stories for young readers. The students could play an accompanying questions-and-answers game on-line with a chance to win some terrific prizes.

Such programs were driven by locally set priorities, so range over many different kinds of activities. There were some common threads that we set out below.

Technical support

It was common for community foundations to provide support to supplement grant aid.

To take some examples, the Morogoro Municipal Community Foundation provides training on 'good governance'. The Community Foundation serving Tyne and Wear and Northumberland runs a local environmental action program that combines grant support with a program of public education for groups who wish to work in an environmentally-conscious way.

The Community Foundation of Euroregion Labe ran a systematic capacity building program over the period of a year. Workshops were supplemented by individual sessions to help organizations develop individual development plans. Eight representatives from small NGOs attended. Similarly, several community foundations in Connecticut have nonprofit support programs that provide technical assistance and education on everything from budgets to succession planning.

Resource development

Some community foundations were involved in resource development strategies for their communities that were much wider than grants. For example, in Romania, community foundations don't have strong endowments, so most of their work concentrates on engaging community in raising, leveraging and channeling resources for causes they consider important. Community foundations played an important role supporting other NGOs fundraising for 2% tax assignation, promoting this opportunity to the public through the media, press conferences and local events.

The Association of Community Foundations in Bulgaria reported on an interesting example of how to lead by example. A small grant enabled a local playground to be renovated. After seeing the results, people from the community volunteered and began renovating playgrounds in other parts of the city by themselves. The lesson is that things can happen even with limited resources if there is a will.

Fundación Esquel is working on effective strategic alliances with national enterprises in the country to expand their projects and get more resources. In addition, some community foundations are working with companies to develop corporate volunteer programs.

Convening and leading

Many community foundations play a leadership role in their communities.

The Community Foundation of St. Joseph County sees itself as an important community leader, doing much more than collecting and dispersing funding. They identify shared issues and concerns within the community, convene groups to facilitate dialog about them and propose solutions. One of these is the ArtsEverywhere Initiative, a $6 million initiative to develop art and culture.

The Fundación Comunitaria Cozumel has led an alliance to improve children’s education and care. The alliance includes local and state government, the foundation, several corporations (local and international) and several civil society organizations.

The South African Community Foundation Association mediates in political conflicts, working in harmony with other organizations to seek consensus on community issues.


Many community foundations see their role as information providers in their communities.

One highly successful approach, developed by Community Foundations of Canada is 'Vital Signs'. This is an annual check-up that measures the quality of life in communities, identifies trends, and shares opportunities for action. Some 20 community foundations use this approach in Canada, and the approach has spread to many other countries. Vital Signs stories can be found here.

To take other examples, in Ukraine, community foundations have undertaken a comprehensive social needs analysis. This covers health, homelessness, poverty, disability and many other issues. The Fairfield County Community Foundation publishes reports on social issues. These can be found here.

Where next

We explore how community foundations communicate impact on the next page.