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A New Anchor Mission for a New Century: Community foundations deploying all resources to build community wealth

It was in 2005 that the highly regarded Monitor Institute report declared that the field of community foundations was “On the Brink of New Promise,” and in the decade since, there have been countless working groups and initiatives to introduce innovative approaches to the field. At the same time, largely beneath the radar, a small but growing group has begun pursuing the innovative path we explore here. Mostly in small steps—but sometimes in larger ways—they are adopting elements of what could emerge as a new anchor mission to deploy all resources to build community wealth.

Why are these community foundations moving in this direction? What exactly are they doing? To find the answer, we examined a representative group of 30 innovative community foundations, of varying sizes, in various stages of development. For some, the shift involves a focus on catalyzing economic development. This generally involves a move beyond simply disbursing grants toward a leadership or catalytic role, proactively shaping initiatives, and using grantmaking in partnership with approaches like convening, piloting projects, and influencing policy. Others are rethinking how they use their assets and are experimenting with impact investing, which we define here as making investments that seek both financial return and social impact. In the process, these foundations are sometimes engaging donors and other investors around how they make investments. Some foundations examined here are doing both economic development and impact investing.

Through on-the-ground stories, this report examines the motives guiding this work, as well as the benefits, barriers, strategies employed, and steps involved in getting started. We share thoughts from leaders in the field on how this work might best evolve over time, and highlight the trailblazing work of 30 representative community foundations—the "Innovative 30."

The Innovative 30:

Community foundations leading the way towards a new anchor mission

Amarillo Area Foundation
Leading the Panhandle Prosperity Initiative
Arizona Community Foundation
Facilitating and funding loans for community development
Arkansas Community Foundation
Taking steps to invest in the local economy
The Boston Foundation
Investing in affordable housing and workforce development
California Community Foundation
Supporting CDFIs and making micro-business loans
The Chicago Community Trust
Accelerating the local food system and strengthening the local economy
The Cleveland Foundation
Leading the Greater University Circle Initiative and launching green worker cooperatives
The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta
Leveraging anchor institutions for community economic development
Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo
Greening homes and creating jobs
The Community Foundation for the National Capital Region
Exploring a regional wealth building initiative
The Community Foundation for Northeast Florida
Supporting affordable housing and community economic development
The Denver Foundation
Catalyzing cooperatives, social enterprise, and employee ownership
Edmonton Community Foundation
Financing social enterprise and affordable housing
Grand Rapids Community Foundation
Fighting back against the foreclosure crisis
The Greater Cincinnati Foundation
Advancing place-based impact investing
The Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation
Committing to proactively build community wealth
The Greater Tacoma Community Foundation
Incorporating local impact investing into its endowment strategy
Incourage Community Foundation
Responding to local needs with a path-breaking commitment to impact investing
Initiative Foundation
Creating and retaining jobs
Maine Community Foundation
Investing for impact in the local food system
New Hampshire Charitable Foundation
Pioneering support for CDFIs
The New York Community Trust
Supporting community nonprofits, participatory budgeting, and more
Oregon Community Foundation
Making investments in a stronger local economy
The San Francisco Foundation
Creating pathways for local investing and job creation
Santa Fe Community Foundation
Piloting impact investing and funding community wealth building
The Seattle Foundation
Investing in sustainability, small business, and affordable housing
Telluride Foundation
Accelerating and supporting local economic development
Vermont Community Foundation
Pooling assets for local investment and economic development
West Central Initiative
Directing and supporting regional economic planning to build community wealth
Whatcom Community Foundation
Building a healthier local food system

More updates

Press Release: New report from the Democracy Collaborative examines how leading community foundations are embracing an anchor mission

“Innovative 30” building stronger local economies and investing more resources in the communities they serve
Across the country, forward-thinking community foundations are finding new ways to deploy all their resources to build community wealth. The Democracy Collaborative’s new report, A New Anchor Mission for a New Century, lifts up the work of the “Innovative 30”—community foundations that are leading the way towards this emerging mission.

Webinar: Learn how community foundations are building community wealth

December 4th, 2014

Marjorie Kelly and Violeta Duncan present and discuss the findings of their new Democracy Collaborative report, A New Anchor Mission for a New Century: Community foundations deploying all resources to build community wealth, with experts from the field.


  • Marjorie Kelly, Senior Fellow and Director of Special Projects, The Democracy Collaborative 
  • Violeta Duncan, Community Development Associate, The Democracy Collaborative 
  • Sandy Wiggins, Principal, Consilience, LLC; Chair, Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE); and Senior Advisor, RSF Social Finance 
  • Patrick Horvath, Director of Economic Opportunity, Director of Strengthening Neighborhoods, The Denver Foundation 
  • Stuart Comstock-Gay, President & CEO, Vermont Community Foundation
  • Robert Killins Jr., Program Director - Vibrant Places, The Greater Cincinnati Foundation 
Read more about Webinar: Learn how community foundations are building community wealth...

West Central Initiative highlighted as part of The Democracy Collaborative’s ‘Innovative 30’

Fergus Falls Journal Staff Writer
Fergus Falls Journal

Originally published in the Fergus Falls Journal on December 8, 2014.

What could a small regional foundation like West Central Initiative have in common with the likes of the California Community Foundation or the New York Community Trust? Turns out, it is their ability to help revitalize and rebuild more equitable, sustainable local economies by using their knowledge of their communities to kick start economic development.

Across the country, innovative community foundations are finding new ways to deploy all their resources to build community wealth. The Democracy Collaborative’s new report, A New Anchor Mission for a New Century, lifts up the work of 30 such leading community foundations, including West Central Initiative.

Associated Grant Makers: Community Foundation Roundtable

January 14th, 2015
Greater Worcester Community Foundation, 370 Main Street, #650, Worcester, MA 01608

Senior Fellow Marjorie Kelly will be speaking at the Greater Worcester Community Foundation presenting: A New Anchor Mission for a New Century, Community foundations deploying all resources to build community wealth as part of the Associated Grant Makers' Community Foundation Roundtable series. Read more about Associated Grant Makers: Community Foundation Roundtable...

Community Foundations Embrace Impact Investing

Anne Field

A small, but growing, number of community foundations are starting to embrace impact investing in a big way.

That’s one of the conclusions of  A New Anchor Mission for a New Century, a report recently produced by Takoma Park, Md-basedDemocracy Collaborative. The authors studied 30 foundations  focused on  two areas, which sometimes overlap–impact investing and economic development.

Impact investing at Vancity Community Foundation exemplifies trend toward more innovation among community foundations

Michelle Strutzenberger
Enterprising Non-Profits Canada

Though a recent report about innovative community foundations focuses primarily on the U.S., its findings ring true for some Canadian community foundations also doing pioneering work in their field. Vancouver-based Vancity Community Foundation is one of these.

Released in November, The New Anchor for a New Mission report details how a group of 30 innovative community foundations of varying sizes and stages of development are exploring how they could do better at building community wealth.

What’s the greater promise in community foundations for the future?

Michelle Strutzenberger
Enterprising Non-Profits

A key reason that researchers of 30 of North America’s most innovative community foundations were attracted to the only Canadian community foundation highlighted in their report was its collaborative work.

Edmonton Community Foundation (ECF) received a spot in the New Anchor Mission for a New Century report largely given it co-creation of a loan fund with the City of Edmonton.

Forget Venture Capitalists—This Scrappy Composting Co-Op Found Another Way to Get Startup Money

Laura Flanders
Yes! Magazine

At age 60, when many of her friends are considering retirement, Josefina Luna is chair of the board of CERO Cooperative Inc. CERO is a five-member worker-owned cooperative on a mission to encourage composting and create jobs in the hard-up Boston neighborhoods of Roxbury, Dorchester, and East Boston. It's a small but unusually diverse team: Of the five worker-owners, two are African-American, two are Latinas, and one is white. They communicate in English and Spanish. To kick-start their business, they’ve also had to learn the language of stocks and shares, but they just may have hit on a new way of raising capital for businesses owned by poor people.