Beyond the Dollar Sign: Redefining Community Philanthropy

Friday, October 23, 2015 - 11:00 am
Antonia Hernández

Building a culture of local involvement

We could all name an instance where an act of goodwill impacted our lives or even changed it. Often these reflections aren’t about giving or receiving a significant sum of money. They involve genuine engagement and empathy, especially in a time of need.

For those who lead community foundations, engaging members of our communities should be equally as important as fundraising.

As part of the California Community Foundation’s 100th anniversary this year, we want to involve community leaders and county residents in determining how we can provide more meaningful opportunities to give back that extend beyond writing a check.

To start this dialogue, CCF partnered with the University of Southern California and the Los Angeles Times to conduct a poll whereby more than 1,500 L.A. County residents shared why they are or are not involved in our community. We found that most people care deeply about their communities and making them better places to live. Eighty percent said they are willing to volunteer more and 65 percent said they are willing to donate more to worthy causes. 

The problem isn’t lack of caring, but a lack of knowing how to contribute or how to make a difference. Nearly 2 in every 5 people said one of the main reasons they weren’t involved is they don’t know what they can do to help, while a third of all respondents don’t feel they can make a difference.

These findings show us all that we must start doing more to get people involved and aware of how working together can make an impact. We must show that small commitments are no less Herculean than larger ones.

To do that, we need to redefine what philanthropy means to the community, and who better to lead the charge than community foundations?

Community foundations, often referred to as “the people’s foundations,” have historically worked within their communities to make them better places to live. Estimates report there are roughly 760 community foundations throughout the country that give $5 billion annually to their localities and hold $65 billion in assets from donors large and small.

Community foundations must now expand their approach to shift beyond fundraising and investment to cultivate a sense of belonging and a culture of involvement among their local residents.

This means valuing and encouraging all levels and types of contribution, from all sectors of society. Whether it is volunteerism, involvement on a neighborhood council or a financial donation, no effort is too small. This level of involvement can often be more meaningful, fostering a sustained commitment to giving.

The challenges we face with engagement and belonging are not unique to Los Angeles. Yet our challenges, coupled with great diversity and sheer size, provide us the opportunity to show how foundations can involve a diverse community in making things better for the greater good—both here and elsewhere.

Antonia Hernández is the President and CEO of the California Community Foundation and a Board Member of the Council on Foundations.

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