Natalie Ross and Nick Deychakiwsky — Community philanthropy is growing

Community philanthropy is a field in expansion throughout the world – the number of community philanthropy organizations has more than doubled between 2000 and 2014. Among the several elements driving this growth, is the work of foundations and philanthropy infrastructure organizations serving the field, providing services, as well as generating knowledge and resources. WINGS latest report, Infrastructure in Focus: A Special Look at Organizations Serving Community Philanthropy, found a relationship between the availability of support in a country and the growth of community philanthropy organizations.

A series of initiatives in the past couple of years show this behind-the-scenes work. The Community Foundation Atlas, for instance, was a collective effort to map community philanthropy organizations globally. From the perspective of a support organization, Natalie Ross from the Council on Foundations talks about their work and the Global Alliance for Community Philanthropy. Nick Deychakiwsky provides a perspective from a foundation, introducing the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation microsite,, which shares valuable the lessons from the foundation’s 30-plus years supporting community-based philanthropy.

ross_250WINGS: How did collaboration and coalition building help guide your work with the Global Alliance for Community Philanthropy?

Natalie Ross: Building a funder’s collaborative requires patience, creativity and many in-person meetings in order to build trust because funders almost always have differing perspectives, even when tackling a shared challenge. For GACP, it was important to have diverse types of funders in the partnership — a bilateral like USAID, alongside Mott, Rockefeller Brothers and Ford, as well as an operating foundation like Aga Khan. This diversity makes the coalition stronger but required significant discussion, negotiation, creative thinking, and relationship building as we designed new ways of working together as funders and partners.

Today, GACP is a learning partnership led by the Global Fund for Community Foundations that is tackling hard questions around how to change the top-down development paradigm — how can external funders best help to build local institutions that have local capacity, assets and trust, and can sustain civil society in geographies around the world? These types of important questions will help all types of funders working to support civil society globally.

WINGS: How is the Council on Foundations looking to shape its global portfolio and create an open dialogue with individuals and other organizations?

NR: COF’s global program will work in three main areas: effective cross-border grantmaking; advocacy on policy and regulation of cross-border philanthropy; and convening global conversations. It’s incredibly important for us to work with partners and networks instead of going alone, so we will continue to work with partners like WINGS, ICNL, and EFC. COF’s recent work on Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and proposed revisions to Chinese legislation of foundations and NGOs are examples of how we are working with partners to improve the enabling environment for cross-border philanthropy around the world.

Global is not a stand-alone program at COF, but a crosscutting element of all of COF’s programming. Our 2016 annual meeting will focus on the future of “community” in a more globalized and rapidly changing world where global viewpoints and partnerships are incredibly important. Our global program will continue to host discussions on issues important to all types of funders, including topics like the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), changing regulations of philanthropy into Mexico, and how US community foundations are increasing cross-border grants out of donor-advised funds.

WINGS: How might we use the successes and challenges of community philanthropy in Sub-Saharan Africa and the MENA region to inform initiatives around the world?

NR: Philanthropy occurs naturally within almost all societies, often through local traditions that external donors may not know of or ignore. Successful community philanthropy organizations utilize traditional models of philanthropy to tap local assets, especially in Africa and MENA. In Kenya, external funders initially supported KCDF, but the institution grew its own endowment from Kenyans, building on local traditions of harambee, and today KCDF is using innovative enterprise-driven approaches to continue growing their assets via the launch of KCDF Investments. In Egypt, the Waqfeyat al Maadi Community Foundation has been working to grow Egyptian philanthropy since 2007 by building upon local traditions of waqf to grow local, long-term sustainable support for civil society.

Community foundations are important partners for outside funders looking to enter new geographies, especially in times of disaster. The Community Foundation Atlas, of which WINGS is a part, is an important tool for partners to locate community foundations around the world who can help them better understand the local context, actors and needs.

Community philanthropy globally will continue to evolve and there is a lot North American and European foundations can learn from these innovations. This is why the work of GFCF and GACP is so important to the field — to help document the successes and challenges faced by community philanthropy organizations globally.

Natalie Ross is the Member Relations Director for Global Philanthropy at the Council on Foundations. 

deychakiwsky_250WINGS: What is the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation’s current focus in the community philanthropy field?

Nick Deychakiwsky: The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation started its long-term focused funding of the community philanthropy field in 1979, primarily by providing grants to US-based community foundations. As the field has flourished and matured, Mott’s grantmaking has evolved.

Today, the Foundation helps build and strengthen the field more broadly through three main strategies: making grants to membership and support organizations, providing fellowship programs for international field leaders, and developing a worldwide network for community philanthropy. Each of these areas is described more fully on Mott’s microsite, The site was launched in 2014 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first community foundation in the US.

During our three-plus decades of supporting community-based philanthropy, Mott has learned some valuable lessons that might help other individual community philanthropy organizations, potential funders, and also the field more broadly. They include:

  • Develop a strong support network of membership associations, councils and organizations that can help the field grow and sustain itself.
  • Balance local buy-in and external support so the latter supplements local assets but does not replace it.
  • Provide more than money by serving as conveners, partners and proactive community leaders that address entrenched local issues.
  • Adapt and be flexible to different tax structures, laws, and cultural contexts.
  • Take the long view to create sustainable and healthy communities, which requires time, patience and a long-term commitment.
  • Include the whole community in governance, decision making and activities.
  • Leverage resources and partnerships with local, national and international institutions that share similar goals.

Sharing specific case studies — of what has and has not worked on the ground globally — also is a way for Mott to provide the community philanthropy field with insights. The Foundation’s microsite highlights case studies about several community philanthropy organizations in Romania, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere. Of course, Mott has long recognized that no institution can thrive without strong leaders. Hence, the Foundation supports opportunities for community philanthropy practitioners from around the world to learn about the field from each other and specialists via the Emerging Leaders International Fellows Program at The Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society, which is based at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

For Mott, sharing information allows for a diversity of voices to be heard and a variety of practices to be explored. The microsite is one tool the Foundation uses to do this. Another is Mott’s Community Foundation Issue Page.

Nick Deychakiwsky is the Program Officer for the Mott Foundation’s Civil Society team. View WINGS Strategic Plan 2015-2018 here. More WINGS interviews here.

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