Unexplored Collaborations: US Community Foundations As Partners In Global Grantmaking

Unexplored Collaborations: US Community Foundations As Partners In Global Grantmaking

By Lauren Bradford and Natalie Ross


We can now say that community foundations across the United States are officially international grantmakers. We’ve witnessed  the emerging trend of US community foundations making global grants for several years. But now, for the first time ever, we have data showing that this shift is bigger than many of us suspected as these local place-based philanthropic organizations grant millions of dollars to programs abroad annually.


Last week, our two organizations — the Council on Foundations and Foundation Center — released a new report: “Local Communities with Global Reach: International Giving by US Community Foundations.” The study found that grant dollars given by the largest US community foundations more than doubled from $103 million in 2011 to $223 million in 2014. More foundations are enabling global giving as well: in 2014, 85 percent of the community foundations we analyzed made at least one international grant, compared to 67 percent in 2002.

Unexplored Collaborations: US Community Foundations As Partners In Global Grantmaking

Another key finding from the study, which analyzes the international grantmaking of about 100 of the largest community foundations in the US, is the diverse approaches that US community foundations take to their global engagement, ranging from direct support to civil society organizations abroad and support to programs implemented abroad by  US 501c3s, to global programs incorporated into foundation missions.


There are two key lessons we draw from the report for the global philanthropy sector:  


  1. Community foundations should connect across borders

According to the community foundation atlas (www.communityfoundationatlas.org), there are more than 1,800 community foundations working across five continents today. This number is growing quickly, but we found little evidence of collaboration between US community foundations and their global peers. Partnerships like these could have significant results — including US foundations gaining crucial local knowledge and ensuring that their grants are having optimal impact. The Global Fund for Community Foundations is a natural broker of cross-border partnerships between community foundations globally working on similar issues, even if in diverse geographies. Networks within WINGS can also help make connections. If a US community foundation working with a diaspora group in the US connected with a peer community foundation in their country of origin, imagine how much more impact a cross-border grants program could have.  


We also found that most global giving by US community foundations is via US based partners. Strategic relationships between community foundations across borders could encourage more direct giving by US community foundations to local, grassroots organizations around the world.


  1. Collect and share more data on giving by community foundations

Our report relied on information reported by US community foundations either directly to Foundation Center, or via their 990 tax forms, and much of the data lack the level of detail needed to accurately identify which grants benefit international programs and organizations. Further, some giving is reported as targeting “developing countries” but not specific countries or regions. This limited data means that no one has a complete aggregate picture on where and how US community foundations are supporting international programs.


This data challenge is not unique to the US, where in fact we may have some of the best data on community foundation giving in the world.  Lauren recently wrote about the breakthrough work of the Kenya Community Development Foundation in collecting and mapping data on who is funding what, and where, in Kenya. If the global community foundation sector had better data on where and what is being funded, it would be even easier to establish effective partnerships and analyze shared priorities globally.

This report, more than anything, excited us about the potential for US foundations to engage in the global community, both around their international giving and to strengthen their domestic programs with international perspectives. We loved a Andrew Chunilall of Community Foundations of Canada’s post on the Philanthropy in Focus blog— “The Ripple Effect: How Global Challenges Impact Local Communities.” Andrew discusses “the need for global philanthropy to work together and take up strategies to adapt to changing political and social contexts at the local level,” and we couldn’t agree more. Community foundations should continue to learn from each other, collaborate around shared goals, and partner with the growing network of intermediary service providers who can help support international giving.


We see huge potential for US community foundations to continue to grow their international impact. We hope this new report sparks new conversations and serves as baseline data for further study. If you’d like to discuss this evolving space, we’d love to connect with you.


Natalie Ross (natalie.ross@cof.org / @nataliejoross)  is the senior director of global philanthropy and partnerships at Council on Foundations. Lauren Bradford (lbr@foundationcenter.org / @laurenjbradford) is the director of global partnerships at Foundation Center.

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