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

Michelle Strutzenberger

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.

In this decision to showcase ECF, co-researchers Marjorie Kelly and Violeta Duncan capture the essence of the greater promise they see for community foundations moving forward — that in order for them to address structural economic inequalities and poverty, community foundations must move from passive grant-making to a proactive grant-making that emphasizes working collaboratively.

“To me, the distinction between passive and active grant-making is breadth of vision,” Violeta says.

“Are you looking to address the conditions that contribute to the ailment(s) you would like to alleviate, or simply address the ailment? 

“If the goal is the latter, it is likely that the foundation’s relationships are transactional — that is ‘here is X amount of dollars, do good work’.”

But to address chronic issues, one needs to develop transformational relationships, Violeta goes on to note. 

This means bringing together a wide range of identities and communities, and working collaboratively — with the understanding that this process is for the long run — to address complex issues. 

“We found that community foundations, as place-based, respected institutions, are well placed to nurture and develop these intimate, and sometimes confrontational, transformational relationships,” Violeta adds.

Community foundations have always had the potential as community wealth building anchors, but there seems to be new motivation to think and act strategically about how they can collaboratively and collectively build the wealth of the residents of their communities, Violeta says.

Some of this new drive seems to stem from ongoing government retrenchment, she adds.

“Community foundations are responding to this and other new challenges, realizing their full capacity.”

Imagining what else might be possible for community foundations, Violeta is excited for an emphasis on local investing.

“There will be more and more foundations like the Vermont Community Foundation, which has a policy that five per cent of assets are invested in the state,” she says.

“This is already happening around investments in local food systems. I am hoping that this extends to other investments in the green economy like renewable energy.”