One core lesson we’re learning in 2020 is that where you live in the US significantly impacts your life and your health. Rural or urban. North or South. City. State. Neighborhood. Each of these factors hugely impacts how an individual has experienced the COVID-19 pandemic and the response to it. A person’s location also affects how they are impacted by the long-existing structural racism that has been further brought to light by widespread protests. Invisible lines that delineate geographic and governmental units are often real lines that determine an individual’s life experience and opportunities.

In recent years, many funders have tried to address geographic inequities through place-based approaches to philanthropy. First, what is “place-based philanthropy”? Simply put, it’s philanthropy that typically addresses interconnected issues affecting population outcomes in one defined geography. Using a systems theory lens, the place-based approach acknowledges that a focus on a single issue is far less effective than holistic approaches using a combination of grants, leadership development, and coalition and community building activities.

Funders of all size have embraced place-based work as a way to deepen and sustain their impact on specific communities, frequently incorporating a racial equity lensparticipatory grantmaking, or an asset-based approach to work in deep partnership with the community.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation in Baltimore has long championed and offered expertise on place-based philanthropy, and many foundations embrace this approach. For example, the Steans Family Foundation, a small family foundation, focuses its efforts on the North Lawndale neighborhood of Chicago. And the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, one of the largest independent foundations in the US, often works in micro-regions in their key geographies, such as in Haiti where they work on the Central Area and the Southwest Corridor.

Naturally, much of the attention in place-based philanthropy is on the programmatic work of a foundation such as the issues it seeks to address, its partners in the work, and the grants that are made. Less obvious is the importance of how a foundation’s board operates. A board’s leadership in place-based philanthropy is a critical component of effectively having impact in a specific geography. Place-based work is not merely another strategy for a foundation board to craft; a place-based focus can shift the entire way the board thinks about and approaches its work.

To effectively adopt a place-based approach to philanthropy, foundation board members should consider these six lessons we’ve learned in our work with clients:

  1. Build trust in the community.
  2. Include the community on the governing board or advisory board.
  3. Strive to be flexible.
  4. Be willing to take risks.
  5. Put the community at the center of the vision and build from there.
  6. Maintain the long view.

Read the full article on place-based philanthropy at TPI.