Breakout Session 5: How do we strengthen our capacity as a foundation?


Breakout Session 5: How do we strengthen our capacity as a foundation?

Facilitator: JoAnn Turnquist, President and CEO, Central Carolina Community Foundation

Scribe: Carolyn Torgersen, VP for Marketing and Communications, Community Foundation of the Lowcountry


The large question of “how do we build and leverage our capacity as a convener?” was posed to the group. 

The board of the Central Carolina Community Foundation wanted the community foundation to strive for three things:

• To become more financially sound

• To make impactful grants

• To be visible and viable

Homelessness was the issue that was explored in response to the goals.  $500,000 over five years was committed to build a transitional homeless shelter.  In addition, board members signed a petition in support of the shelter; the foundation ran ads educating the community on the issue; and the foundation convened community leaders around the issue.

Group Exercise

The room broke into three groups and designated and spokesperson and scribe.

Q: What are some examples of community issues that should be addressed/led by your foundation?

Issues to consider:

• How can your foundation make an impact on this issue?

• How will this initiative/project affect our reputation?

• Is it worth it?

• How will this project(s) affect our relationships with donors, stakeholders, board members, and potential fundholders?

Report Back

Group One

Two giving-related initiatives were given as examples.  One from the Bluegrass Community Foundation which focuses on charitable giving with the thought process that if there is a funding gap for issues, there is likely an information gap.

The Grand Forks Community Foundation is spending time to look at community research to move forward.

Group Two

The Long Beach Community Foundation has no open competitive grantmaking, but instead focuses on issues and communities to make a larger impact ($40K grantmaking range.)  They define this as “headline driven, strategic grantmaking.”  The issue areas and communities serve change every year.

The New Economy Initiative in Southeast Michigan has focused on the deteriorating economy. 

Group Three

The Black Hills Area Community Foundation has done studies to provide information on how to best address the downturned economy. 

North Florida and Charlottesville have developed informational databases for local nonprofits.

It was noted that community foundations will never be able to spend their way out of a problem.  The goal needs to be engaging people and changing the culture. 

Group Exercise

Q: If you took this issue to your board, what evaluation process would the board (staff) use to decide whether to take on this issue and what role would you play?

Report Back

Group Two

It was determined to be very important to make sure the board is committed to the initiative/program. And when considering areas to fund, to make sure you have external partners and cheerleaders to assist.

Group Three

In many instances, it is the staff that comes up with the ideas and completes the research on issues.  The goal is then to inform and engage the board in the process.

Also as important was to be sure the issue is consistent with the foundation’s mission.

Group One

One foundation provided an example of an education initiative that did not have the buy-in needed to be successful.  The champion was one staff person and the board was not informed or engaged.  The foundation is now in the process of undertaking an exit strategy that is involving crises communications.

As a result, this foundation has instituted a “time, talent, and treasure” agreement with each board member to insure board engagement.

The question was asked “how can you be opportunistic, yet still keep the board engaged?” 

Most participants use executive committees for quick by-in and decision making in between board meetings.  As a twist, the Legacy Foundation has its board members to sign up for task forces that may meet up to four times in between board meetings to work on time-sensitive issues.

Group Exercise

Q. How do we know when we’re done?

Report Back

Group Two

The need to budget and set a timeline from day one was seen as important.  Also, engaging external collaborators to maintain program is frequently done. 

One example from the Community Foundation of Southeast Michigan is the Cultural Alliance of Southeast Michigan.  The foundation brought together the arts groups to discuss timely issues.  The group then spun off its own member organization.

Group One

State clear expectations so the partners know what the involvement of the foundation will be.

Group Three

Set a measurement plan in place.

Celebrate success when initiative is closed out.

Five “rules”

• Involve diverse partners from the beginning

• Include community partners

• Use database on local research to set the agenda and make adjustments

• Commit to the long term.  Making even modest progress can be extremely difficult.

• Share credit for success.

Other materials shared:

An article from The Chronicle of Philanthropy on collaboration.

An article from The Chronicle of Philanthropy on community foundations and advocacy roles.