Through some of our recent work with community foundations, we’ve identified several trends in the field that we think will continue to gain momentum in 2020, including growth in civic leadership roles, innovation in donor partnership and engagement, and leadership through systems philanthropy.

A recent Funders Summit that I attended put on by Philanthropy Massachusetts in partnership with Essex County Community Foundation highlighted the emerging field of systems philanthropy. There is great potential for community foundations to galvanize community impact by playing leadership roles in local systems philanthropy. Below are example strategies that community foundations are implementing to advance systems change.

According to one community foundation – Essex County Community Foundation in Essex County, Massachusetts – systems philanthropy is the work of attracting and deploying philanthropic monies to amplify community-based, collaborative initiatives, tackling the root causes of systemic social issues and challenges, resulting in population-level impact.

Kania et al.’s 2018 report, The Waters of Systems Change, describes systems change as shifting the conditions that hold a problem in place, and outlines six conditions of systems change in three main categories:

  • Structural Change: addressing policies, practices, and resource flows
  • Relational Change: building relationships, connections, and power dynamics
  • Transformative Change: changing mental models

We’ve seen community foundations working toward systems change often begin with Relational Change – leveraging their position and core competencies by first building trust and connections in communities, fostering relationships, and ultimately changing local power dynamics. Community foundations also work toward Transformative Change by effectively using their influence and resources to change peoples’ ideas about issues that prevail in a community. In addition, community foundations work toward Structural Change by influencing resource flows. Resources for systems change come from community foundations’ discretionary funds and their ability to raise and leverage local donor support.

Read the full article about systems philanthropy by Lisa Payne Simon at The Philanthropic Initiative.