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."