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


Takoma Park, Maryland – November 17, 2014

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.

According to the report’s authors, Democracy Collaborative Senior Fellow Marjorie Kelly and Community Development Associate Violeta Duncan, community foundations are “anchor institutions”—place-based nonprofits with significant resources that are highly unlikely to abandon the communities in which they reside. With many of these communities, in both rural and urban areas, struggling with deeply entrenched economic problems like inequality and unemployment, the case becomes for clear for community foundations to take up the “anchor mission”: recognizing the impact they can have as engines of community economic development and local mission-driven investment. Doing so requires charting an exciting new course beyond the transactional model in which community foundations serve simply as a container for donor-advised funds, to a more transformative model where community foundations take the lead in efforts to revitalize and rebuild more equitable and more sustainable local economies. Such a new mission for community foundations has become especially important as they find their traditional business model threatened more and more by competition from donor-advised funds tied to large commercial banks and investment firms.

Some of the foundations highlighted in the report are concentrating on using their deep knowledge of their communities to kickstart much-needed economic development—launching worker-owned cooperatives, building local business accelerators, and providing key ways to connect resources. Others are rethinking community investment—creating loan pools and guarantees, working with community development financial institutions, and inviting donors to partner on mission-aligned local investments. Some key examples of local philanthropic innovators highlighted by the authors include:

  • The Cleveland Foundation—the nation’s first community foundation—which convened the Greater University Circle Initiative in 2005. The Initiative brought together large place-based anchor institutions in a comprehensive effort to revitalize the surrounding low-income communities, resulting in a nationally celebrated network of green worker cooperatives, a workforce training center, an employer-assisted housing program, and a robust community engagement initiative.

  • The Incourage Community Foundation in Wisconsin, which has made a bold commitment in 2014 to reexamine all of its operations with a mission lens. The Foundation’s ambitious goal is to orient 100% of its investments—as well as its grantmaking, purchasing, and hiring— towards building a stronger and more inclusive local economy.

  • The Vermont Community Foundation, which combines 5% of all funds, including donor-advised funds, into a local investment pool, and then builds on these investments with grantmaking and convening aimed at developing a healthier, more inclusive, and more economically robust food system statewide.

The importance of such transformative innovations is underscored by many of the field builders and leaders interviewed for the report. Sandy Wiggins, working with the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE) and RSF Social Finance to convene a Community Foundation Circle to share best practices in local impact investing, notes that community foundations can serve “as the nexus for a whole ecosystem of community capital to support local economic development.” Clara Miller of the Heron Foundation concurs, seeing a key role for community foundations as leaders in “economic reinvention” designed “to promote a more inclusive, just and productive society.”

As the need for creative solutions to deep and serious problems grows more pressing, Kelly and Duncan in their report underscore the importance of lifting up the work of innovative community foundations which are “beginning to adopt a new anchor mission: a commitment to fully deploy all resources—financial, social, intellectual, human–to build community wealth.”


About A New Anchor Mission for a New Century

The Democracy Collaborative’s report is available as a free PDF download here.

About The Democracy Collaborative:

The Democracy Collaborative is a national non-profit research and consulting institution dedicated to developing new ways to build community wealth and stronger local economies. The Collaborative has assisted a number of community foundations with their community wealth building activities. For more information, visit the website.


John Duda, Communications Coordinator

The Democracy Collaborative


Phone: (202) 559-1473 x102

Twitter: @democracycollab

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