Giving Compass’ Take:
• The Graduate Center, The City University of New York argues that community foundations are uniquely prepared to support refugees because of their understanding of community needs, available resources, and advocacy opportunities.
• How can community foundations identify refugees and make themselves known as a resource? What partnerships can foundations form to increase the breadth and depth of their services to refugees?
Germany has taken in more than one million refugees in 2015 alone (1.23% of its population), more than any other country in Europe.
Many German cities and counties were not prepared for this historic humanitarian inflow and are still struggling with welcoming thousands of refugees, providing housing, health care, education, and other services, let alone integrating them.
Many nonprofit organizations, among them community foundations, and countless volunteers have stepped in where the authorities are too slow or overstrained. Civil society organizations and hundreds of new volunteer initiatives have supported state and local authorities in providing short-term help to the newcomers. Now, the focus is more on their long-term integration and on perpetuating the structures that support them.
Out of 400 German community foundations, 210 (53%) have been active in this field in the last two years, as the first empirical study by Aktive Bürgerschaft shows. Ten activities are typical of community foundations. The “10 typical activities” have been developed by Aktive Bürgerschaft based on empirical research of all 400 community foundations in Germany.
- Establishing field-of-interest-funds for the support of refugees
- Fundraising activities
- Making the support of refugees a priority
- Supporting and honoring volunteers
- Initiating networks of local stakeholders
- Expanding well-established programs
- Providing practical help and orientation
- Creating meeting opportunities for newcomers and locals
- Fostering better understanding of the situation of refugees
- Taking a public stand for diversity and integration
The role of each community foundation and the scope of its activities vary from supporting one specific project to being a central community leader. One-fifth of German community foundations have made the support of refugees a priority issue. Many activities aim at empowering refugees; in one-sixth of CF activities, refugees have been engaged as volunteers themselves.
Although their model is more than 100 years old, community foundations have proved to be well-equipped to respond to the new refugee challenge, not only in Germany. They have been quick to take action, with their “ear to the ground,” picking up local sensitivities and opportunities. Most German community foundations are still young and not as well-endowed as their North American counterparts. Their strengths lie in their know-how and experience in working with volunteers, their community leadership, and their versatility. Their income largely comes from donations and unrestricted funds, allowing the board the discretion to make grants to address the most urgent needs locally.