Articles about foundations aren’t typically as full of barbs as Marc Gunther’s long piece on the Silicon Valley Community Foundation (SVCF). That makes it an entertaining read, but the underlying debate — about the role of community foundations — makes it an important one. Gunther harshly critiques SVCF CEO Emmett Carson and his apparent unwillingness to guide donors to focus on pressing issues in the local community.
In light of the increasing array of choices for how donors do their giving, what is the right stance of community foundations today and in the future? Should they adapt by seeking to be more like the other options in this new marketplace? Or should they double down on their community focus, seeking to provide leadership and guide donors toward addressing key community challenges? Or does the answer differ based on local context?
Carson sees Silicon Valley as a harbinger. “We see the future today,” he told the New York Times in 2015. “You all see the future tomorrow.” It’s pretty clear he feels that the community foundation he leads is charting the path of the future, and that others would be wise to follow.
My view squares more with that of the nonprofit CFLeads, which supports community foundations and describes them as “vital partners in building communities where all residents are prosperous, healthy, and secure.”
Gunther quotes CFLeads President and CEO Deborah Ellwood, who argues that, “At their best, community foundations are local organizations that are using a whole toolbox to strengthen their communities. … They have local knowledge. They create and disseminate local information. They can also, of course, engage residents. … They’re also working across sectors. They can fund advocacy, and they can lobby. They are trusted, so they can be even-handed contributors.”
I talk to a lot of community foundation leaders, and if there is a trend I see, it’s toward more focus on leadership in their geographic communities. It’s about more of an effort to inform and influence donors, and to connect them to opportunities for local impact, not less. The growth in interest in CFLeads, from 25 foundations providing support in 2009 to 78 in 2016, according to Ellwood, also suggests that Carson’s vision of community foundations may, in fact, be more anomaly than harbinger.
Read the full article about the role of community foundations by Phil Buchanan at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.