Develop a Strong Support Network
While there are more than 1,800 community foundations, the field as a whole is broader than that. Membership associations, councils, and organizations that provide training, consulting, and other forms of assistance make up a vital support network for the community foundation movement worldwide. Strengthening this network has been a key part of Mott’s strategy, and it has proven effective. Recent studies illustrate that community foundations are more likely to proliferate, grow and sustain themselves in places where a healthy infrastructure of supporting organizations exists.
Balance Local Buy-in and External Support
To be successful and sustainable, Mott’s experience has shown that community foundations must be initiated by local leaders with strong involvement from residents. Support from outside the community — financial or otherwise — is most effective when it is provided carefully, respectfully and patiently, with the real leadership and motivation coming from within a community. External resources can supplement local assets, but they should never be a disincentive or replacement for local buy-in. At all times, outside supporters should recognize that the effort must be rooted locally.
Provide More than Money
Although a community foundation’s financial resources remain an important measure of its success, they are not the sole measure. Increasingly, community foundations are valued for their ability to act not only as fiscal agents, but also as conveners, partners and proactive community leaders capable of addressing entrenched issues. Outside support also needs to extend beyond money. To be effective, community foundations need assistance early on and along the way. They need training to develop expertise in ways to interact with the community, engage board members, cultivate donors, develop policies and procedures for investing finances, evaluate grants, use new technology and support their own grantees.
Adapt and Be Flexible
The community foundation field’s ability to adapt to different tax structures, laws and cultural contexts has been clearly demonstrated in communities around the globe. When created and operated with sensitivity to unique community circumstances and available resources — not a “cookie-cutter” approach — the community foundation concept has proven to be both versatile and adaptable. This extends to the nature of external assistance: different kinds of outside support are more or less appropriate depending on local conditions, the stage of development and other unique circumstances.
Take the Long View
Creating and sustaining a successful community foundation can be a complex process that requires time, patience and a long-term commitment. Community members, donors and external supporters should understand that the community foundation is intended not only to solve current problems, but to be a resource for the community well into the future. As community foundations throughout Michigan first described it, their work is “for good, forever” — a phrase that has been picked up by many in the field.
Leverage Resources and Partnerships
Well-constructed outside support leverages other resources so a small amount of money can go a long way. Often this takes the form of challenge grants, but it extends beyond just financial resources. Partnerships with local institutions and other national and international organizations with similar goals is crucial for strengthening both individual community foundations and the field as a whole.