Three Trends for Community Foundations to Consider

Monday, April 3, 2017 - 11:24 am
Jamie Serino

In January, I shared some trends that will shape philanthropy in 2017, many of which also apply directly to community foundations. Now is a time of significant opportunity for community foundations, which I've seen through our customers and conversations with community foundation professionals like Julie Cole Mecum, who joined me on the Champions for Social Good podcast.


As social problems grow in scope and size, community foundations are increasingly reaching across the sector to engage in conversations about the social problems affecting their communities. During the podcast, Julie commented on an increase in shared knowledge and resources, particularly funding opportunities, as a result of collaboration among community foundations. Organizations such as the Council on Foundations, Exponent Philanthropy, and the National Center for Family Philanthropy also work to convene foundations and philanthropists alike by providing them with the tools and opportunities necessary to advance their missions.

Community foundations are likewise working more closely with donors to make sure donors’ needs are being met, which is important for attracting, engaging, and retaining donors. This trend is particularly relevant with millennials, who want to be more involved with the causes they care about and see the impact of their investments over time.

Donor Advised Funds

Donor advised funds (DAFs) are gaining popularity in the philanthropic sector. In fact, for the first time, a donor advised fund (Fidelity Charitable) earned the top spot of the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s annual ranking of the 400 U.S. charities that raise the most in private support. Some community foundations, like the Community Foundation of Boone County, are leveraging this trend to attract and engage more people in their communities’ causes, even former residents who have moved to other areas.

However, as the popularity of DAFs has risen, so has the debate surrounding them. Some cite issues around the potentially unchecked power of DAFs to influence philanthropic initiatives, while others cite concerns about funds not being distributed quickly enough to those in need. The debate will likely lead to external pressures for institutions running DAFs, including community foundations, to demonstrate the impact of giving through these vehicles. 

Data-Driven Decisions

Community foundations are increasingly using data to make funding decisions and recommendations. An example of this is the Rhode Island Foundation’s use of historical financial and programmatic data to inform decisions about arts and cultural organizations in the state. Foundation for the Carolinas has also looked at data from a study they conducted to identify ways for improving the quality of life of their aging population. And at the Community Foundation of Boone County, Julie has seen the use of data become particularly valuable for driving internal strategies and building reports on their investments impacts over time.

As community foundations continue to engage in these trends, I’m excited to see the work they’ll do in their own communities and in shaping the global philanthropic sector.

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