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Giving all communities ‘a seat at the table’

22 October 2019 at 7:45 am
What sets community foundations apart is that they work with and for the community, writes Bec Bridges from Australian Community Philanthropy, ahead of the upcoming National Community Foundations Forum 2019.

Contributor | 22 October 2019 at 7:45 am


Giving all communities ‘a seat at the table’
22 October 2019 at 7:45 am

What sets community foundations apart is that they work with and for the community, writes Bec Bridges from Australian Community Philanthropy, ahead of the upcoming National Community Foundations Forum 2019.

Community foundations have cultivated networks, in a considerably short amount of time, that support and practice effective philanthropy. Through a place-based and community-informed framework, community foundations address a range of injustices – social, economic, environmental and cultural – but what truly sets them apart is that this is done as a community, with the community and for the community.  

At the upcoming National Community Foundations Forum 2019 in Goolwa, South Australia, we’ll be deep diving into the collaborative and place-based aspects of community philanthropy and how these are evolving to meet current and future needs. 

Leaders from community foundations around Australia offered up their takes on this evolution ahead of the forum later this month.  

“In tight-knit communities, the place-based giving model works really well,” Sarah Thompson, the executive officer at Into Our Hands Community Foundation, says. 

“It’s exciting to see the movement is growing, and we’re seeing an increase in community foundations, with Fremantle Foundation and Stand Like Stone.”

Fremantle Foundation was founded by Dylan Smith in 2010, and soon after Smith started Impact100 Fremantle. 

As the executive officer of a community foundation, he says one of the challenges they face is wanting to do more with little resources. 

“Many foundations are looking to play a leadership role and to work effectively with local communities, through convening and advocating,” he says.

But the legislation around DGR1 status is a persistent hurdle.

“It’s an oldie, but community foundations would perform better if the regulatory environment was more suitable to the work we do,” Smith says.

“I’ve had three conversations in the last fortnight with people that are trying to navigate this.”

Georgie McKay from Stand Like Stone, a dynamic community foundation serving the Limestone Coast in South Australia, agrees.

“The current DGR environment makes it difficult to both disseminate funds to our local community, because there are very few DGR1s in rural and regional Australia, and also to receive funds from other philanthropic structures,” she says.

Local organisations are natural partners for community foundations.

Brad Butler, chair of the Fleurieu Community Foundation, says it is about learning how to integrate and work with other local organisations such as service clubs.

“I have seen the positive impact that a community foundation can have in a community and I would personally hope that we grow the number of community foundations to the point where every person in Australia is covered by a community foundation in their area,” Butler says.

“We cover quite a diverse geographical area, amongst which we’ve discovered pockets where there are distinct needs in those communities. It can be a challenge getting to that point, but once you’re there, it becomes a point of excitement.”

Challenges come in all shapes and forms, and Thompson believes that “intergenerational wealth transfer is the biggest opportunity for philanthropy in general.” 

“We’re documenting the figures and when the change will happen for us,” she says, emphasising the importance of being proactive about this transfer.

“The data is so powerful,” she adds.

Thompson is concerned with this transfer of wealth because there is a lot to lose in regional communities and ensuring there is a community-controlled endowment “gives rural communities a seat at the table”.

“If communities could have an endowment as a result of structured giving, where the community understands the importance of legacy, imagine the strength of the NFP community,” Thompson says, affirming the belief that, at their core, community foundations are about social justice and economic development through community-controlled endowments. 

Smith says he is really interested in exploring the role community foundations can play in addressing climate change.

Fundamental groups like the Australia Environmental Grantmakers Network, Farmers for Climate Action and the Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal are working hard in this space and partnering with community organisations is proving both organic and fruitful. 

This speaks positively of the ability of community foundations to bring together the right agents for change. 

“What helps is that community foundations are value-driven and they’re focused on place,” Thompson says.

A place-based, community-informed lens brings a careful approach to the grantmaking process that can be more enriching to both donors and grantees. 

Dennis Altman, who has been giving through his sub-fund at Australian Communities Foundation for many years now, says: “That’s the job of community foundations – to get people on board and facilitate collective giving for the greatest impact.” 

Community foundations are adept at delivering unique value to their local community. As with any burgeoning industry, investment in infrastructure, capacity and regulation that supports growth is needed to help the industry, and the communities it serves, to thrive. 

The National Community Foundations Forum is taking place in Goolwa, South Australia, across 29, 30 and 31 October, with an optional masterclass also running on Monday 28 October. Visit the Australian Community Philanthropy website for more information or buy tickets here.

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