About

Project Origins

History of the Community Foundation Atlas

The Cleveland Foundation was conceived in 1914 by banker, attorney and philanthropist Frederick H. Goff for the purpose of pooling the charitable gifts of Clevelanders from all walks of life into a single, great, permanent trust to be administered for the betterment of their city. As part of its centennial celebration, the foundation decided to create an atlas that would document the worldwide spread and importance of Goff’s invention. This led to the formation of an international research collaboration dedicated to gathering and publishing comprehensive information about place-based philanthropies on a single, accessible online platform.

Foundation Center, a New York–based knowledge services organization that has built the most comprehensive database on U.S. and, increasingly, global grantmakers, was an obvious partner. The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, a private foundation dedicated to strengthening local communities, was another natural ally. In 2012 the Mott Foundation generously awarded the Cleveland Foundation a grant to underwrite the creation of the Community Foundation Atlas.

Also critically important to the project’s advancement was the recruitment of three international organizations with which the Mott Foundation regularly collaborated on community philanthropy initiatives. At the recommendation of Nicholas (Nick) S. Deychakiwsky, a Civil Society program officer at Mott, the atlas research team was expanded to include the Global Fund for Community Foundations, a grassroots grantmaker working to support emerging community foundations; WINGS (Worldwide Initiatives for Grantmaker Support), a global network of grantmaker support organizations and associations; and CENTRIS, the Centre for Research and Innovation in Social Policy and Practice. Based in South Africa, Brazil and the United Kingdom, respectively, the new partners brought to the project indispensable, “in the trenches” knowledge of the international field and additional expertise in data collection and analysis.

Project Objectives

Goals and Aspirations for the Field

The Mott Foundation’s strategic interest in spreading the seeds of local philanthropy could be traced back to its small grants to the community trust in Mott’s headquarters city of Flint, Michigan, in the 1950s. Indeed, Mott’s active support for the establishment of community foundations as effective vehicles for connecting resources and needs at the local level since the early 1980s is an acknowledged factor behind their global presence.

The Mott Foundation saw how the creation of a common communications tool would benefit the global community foundation movement. On the technical side, it would serve as a working model for an emerging international effort to develop compatible systems and frameworks for data collection about the movement. On the programmatic side, it could potentially build a greater sense of solidarity among the far-flung members of the movement.

If the world’s place-based philanthropies were better informed about the existence of counterparts in other countries and made aware of the similarities of their concerns and the distinctiveness of their approaches to community service and improvement, they could more easily learn from and support one another. This would facilitate wider exchange of best practices and high-impact collaborations aimed at addressing tough problems that span geographical boundaries.

Finally, the atlas would undoubtedly increase the visibility of the community foundation movement. By presenting evidence of the movement’s global impact in a fresh and compelling way, the atlas would demonstrate to a variety of worldwide audiences the important contributions made by community foundations to the places in which these audiences lived and worked. This promised to mobilize greater support for the work of place-based philanthropies on the part of the media, government officials, policymakers, potential philanthropic partners and local leaders.


Project Research

Data Sources and Methodologies

The Community Foundation Atlas project drew upon three main sources of data.

  1. A master emailing list of place-based and other community philanthropies, initially assembled from the records of the project partners and membership rolls provided by philanthropic support organizations, was augmented and vetted through additional research. Now available for consultation in the Profiles section of this site, this master list constitutes the most complete directory of the world’s community foundations that has ever been published in a single place.

    A qualification, however, is in order. Community foundations come into being every year. The field’s identification of newcomers is complicated by political and language barriers, as well as by the ongoing debate (particularly on the international level) about the defining characteristics of community foundations. Furthermore, the atlas has erred on the side of inclusivity. Some community foundation–like organizations listed in the atlas directory may never evolve. For all these reasons, the directory should be considered a work in progress.

  2. A proprietary survey, conceived by Barry Knight, the executive director of CENTRIS, in consultation with the atlas project partners, was emailed to the field in the fall of 2013 and the spring of 2014. In addition to requesting basic contact, financial and operational information, the survey included a set of multiple-choice questions designed to gather baseline data about the nature and effectiveness of the respondents’ work. The survey also provided an opportunity for respondents to describe in their own words the “most meaningful change” recently brought about by their organizations.

    As of April 2014, the Community Foundation Atlas project had received 478 survey responses containing analyzable data in addition to basic contact information. CENTRIS’s Barry Knight dissected this dataset—a statistically valid sampling of the 1,848 place-based and community philanthropies identified by the atlas project to date. He was particularly interested in understanding the reasons for the near doubling of the number of community foundations over the past 15 years.

    Knight used a variety of statistical techniques, including “factor analysis,” to uncover interrelationships in the dataset. In doing so, he made the important discovery that the factors underlying a community foundation’s creation, along with its geographical location, influence the nature of its work and achievements. Read Knight’s findings and interpretations.

  3. The Community Foundation Atlas draws upon an ongoing stream of survey responses to create  profiles of the respondents and recalculate the Snapshots data and Infographics presented in the Facts section of this site. Prior to the site’s unveiling, congruent information gathered on an annual basis by Foundation Center. Foundation Center data were used to fill in gaps in the profiles of the initial set of survey respondents and to create profiles of an additional 1,365 community foundations. Where parallel, Foundation Center data were also factored into the calculation of the Snapshot information and Infographics.

    It is an inescapable reality of data collection that misinterpretation of survey questions or inputting mistakes can introduce errors into a dataset. Organizations represented in the Foundation Directory are strongly encouraged to make sure that the data presented on their profile page are accurate. Clicking on the “Update This Profile” button on the organization’s profile page opens a form into which corrections and information updates can be quickly submitted. Profiled organizations that do not self-identify as a community foundation may use the Comments section of the form to request their removal from the atlas.

Project Leaders

Community Foundation Atlas Partners

CENTRIS

CENTRIS logoCENTRIS, the Centre for Research and Innovation in Social Policy based in the United Kingdom (UK), was formed in 1988 to support innovative social policy and practice. CENTRIS associates work with partners engaged in addressing pressing social issues to develop new solutions through a mixture of research and innovative initiatives.

Barry Knight, the executive director of CENTRIS, has worked on community philanthropy initiatives since 1997. A social scientist who has conducted research and taught at Cambridge University, advised the UK government on policy and grants for nonprofit organizations, and worked at the European Commission on antipoverty programs, Knight has evaluated community philanthropy funding programs undertaken by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation and the Ford Foundation, consulted with the Global Fund for Community Foundations on organizational development and strategic planning, and provided technical assistance to the Global Status Report on Community Foundations published biannually by WINGS (Worldwide Initiatives for Grantmaker Support).

Knight’s facilitation of a two-year-long global consultation on community philanthropy by the Aga Khan Foundation USA and the Mott Foundation led to the formation in 2013 of the Global Alliance for Community Philanthropy, a multidonor collaborative aimed at expanding and deepening the role of community philanthropy in strengthening local development efforts.

The author of books on economic development, family policy, inner cities, the voluntary sector and social enterprise, Knight has written prolifically and insightfully on community philanthropy during his tenure at CENTRIS. See his key research publications and incisive essays

Knight agreed to participate in the Community Foundation Atlas project as chief data analyst in order to advance knowledge of the field and create a baseline for follow-up research for years to come.

Charles Stewart Mott Foundation

Mott FoundationThis private philanthropy was established in 1926 by an automotive pioneer. Committed to promoting a just, equitable and sustainable society by supporting projects that strengthen local communities, the Mott Foundation is headquartered in Flint, Michigan, and has offices in metropolitan Detroit, Johannesburg (South Africa) and London. With assets of approximately $2.5 billion, Mott made 400 grants totaling more than $101 million in 2013 in the U.S. and, on a limited geographical basis, internationally. Mott’s grantmaking is focused on four priorities:  Environment, Flint Area, Pathways Out of Poverty and Civil Society, the umbrella for its work on community philanthropy.

Since 1979, Mott has supported the expansion of community foundations throughout the U.S., building both the capacity and the endowments of these institutions and utilizing their knowledge of their home communities to revitalize neighborhoods, improve race relations, prevent violence and protect the environment. The foundation’s first major foray into supporting community foundations internationally occurred in 1988, when the Charities Aid Foundation, a philanthropy support organization based in England, approached Mott about funding a technical assistance program for emerging community foundations in the United Kingdom.

The Mott Foundation soon began making grants to a range of support organizations and grantmaker associations at home and abroad, recognizing that they could be excellent tools for spreading and strengthening the community foundation field. Since its earliest days of funding individual community foundations, Mott has also steadfastly supported the sharing of research, evaluations and lessons learned about the field—a practice that continues today with its underwriting of the Community Foundation Atlas.

For more information about the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, visit www.Mott.org.

Cleveland Foundation

Cleveland Foundation logoEstablished in 1914 in Cleveland, Ohio, the Cleveland Foundation is the world’s first community foundation. One of the largest such trusts in operation today, the foundation recorded year-end assets of $2.1 billion in 2013. Through the generosity of donors, the foundation improves the lives of Greater Clevelanders by building endowment, responding to needs through grantmaking and providing leadership on vital issues. In 2013, its responsive grantmaking and support for board-directed initiatives in the areas of economic transformation, public school improvement, youth development, neighborhood revitalization and arts advancement totaled $89 million. “The Cleveland model” is the name often given by philanthropic and policy peers to its creative approaches to addressing urban problems. 

The Cleveland Foundation’s captaincy of the Community Foundation Atlas arises from a long tradition of providing national and international leadership to the field. In 1949 the foundation joined with 40 of its counterparts to start a professional organization. A forerunner of the Council on Foundations (COF), the National Council on Community Foundations facilitated the exchange of information among its members and fostered the creation of new community trusts across America. In the 1980s the Cleveland Foundation founded a similar membership association for northeastern Ohio philanthropies called Grantmakers Forum (a predecessor of Philanthropy Ohio) and helped Foundation Center build a network of regional information resource centers by supporting the opening of a branch library in Cleveland.

Emulating the foundation’s founder and tireless advocate, Fred Goff, its leaders have endeavored to spread the concept of a community trust as broadly as possible. Cleveland Foundation representatives joined a COF delegation that visited Moscow in the winter of 1989 at the request of the Soviet Union to discuss American philanthropy; another emissary traveled to England that year to present an endowment check to the foundation’s “twin,” the newly created Cleveland Charities Trust Fund in North Yorkshire (now the Tees Valley Community Foundation). Community foundations in Puerto Rico and St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands received astute advice in their early years from retired Cleveland Foundation director Homer C. Wadsworth. Leslie A. Dunford, the foundation’s vice president for corporate governance and administration, led the Community Foundation Atlas project, with assistance from Mary Louise Hahn, centennial anniversary planning consultant.

For more information about the Cleveland Foundation, visit www.ClevelandFoundation.org

Foundation Center

Foundation Center Established in 1956, Foundation Center has become the leading source of information about philanthropy worldwide. Through data, analysis and training, it connects people who want to change the world to the resources they need to succeed.

Foundation Center's birth in the Cold War atmosphere of the 1950s is not mere happenstance. With many Americans worried that Communist influences were secretly infiltrating the country, fears arose that foundations, whose work was obscured in mystery, might be supporting “un-American” activities. Foundation Center was created to shed light on the philanthropic work being done by U.S. foundations and put to rest these fears.

Today, the relative invisibility of foundation-sponsored activities unnecessarily obscures the good work they do, often in very difficult circumstances. Lack of visibility impedes the sharing of knowledge and promising practices across the philanthropic community and, just as importantly, hides the work from potential partners. To promote greater awareness, Foundation Center has built the world’s most comprehensive database on U.S. and, increasingly, global grantmakers and their grants—a robust, accessible knowledge bank for the sector. Foundation Center also operates research, education, and training programs designed to advance knowledge of philanthropy at every level. Thousands of people visit its website each day and are served in its five regional library/learning centers and at more than 470 Funding Information Network locations nationwide and around the world.

As an organization that has diligently collected and disseminated data on foundation grantmaking for more than 50 years, Foundation Center was pleased to play a role in the development and maintenance of the Community Foundation Atlas. Believing that this new and important resource will shine a much-needed spotlight on the work of community philanthropy around the world, Lawrence T. McGill, Foundation Center’s vice president for research; Reina Mukai, research manager; and, in the atlas’s predevelopment stage, Cynthia Baillie, then director of Foundation Center's Cleveland, Ohio, office, provided indispensable counsel and technical assistance.

For more information about Foundation Center, visit www.FoundationCenter.org

Global Fund for Community Foundations

logo-global-fundThe Global Fund for Community Foundations (GFCF) is a global grassroots grantmaker working to strengthen institutions of community philanthropy around the world. Established in 2006 by the World Bank, the Ford Foundation and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation as a pilot project under the auspices of WINGS (Worldwide Initiatives for Grantmaker Support), GFCF filled a need for a global entity that could provide small grants, technical support and networking opportunities to the growing number of new community foundations, especially in the Global South and Central and Eastern Europe.

Now formally incorporated as an independent organization, GFCF has demonstrated that, with catalytic support, emerging philanthropic organizations can more quickly fulfill their potential as facilitators of sustainable local development, poverty alleviation and citizen participation. Since 2006, the GFCF has awarded over US$3 million to more than 150 community philanthropy organizations in over 50 countries. It remains the only organization providing seed funding to foster community philanthropy on a global basis.

Grants are the mechanism through which GFCF achieves other important objectives. Grantmaking deepens GFCF’s understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing individual organizations, builds working relationships and helps map the field through the collection of grants data. Armed with knowledge and connections, GFCF is uniquely positioned to encourage the development of regional and issue-based clusters of organizations. In addition to providing support for the work, such networks can also begin to develop a collective identity and voice for the field—an essential outcome if community philanthropy is to define itself rather than be defined by others.

GFCF’s website and publication program showcase data and stories that contribute to the evidence base for community philanthropy’s effectiveness in driving community development. GCFC’s executive director Jenny Hodgson and grants and learning coordinator Wendy Richardson invested their time and talents in the Community Foundation Atlas in the belief that it, too, will help change the perception of community philanthropy as a scattering of often small and one-off organizations and gain greater recognition of the field as an exciting and dynamic global force. 

For more information about the Global Fund for Community Foundations, visit www.GlobalFundCommunityFoundations.org.

WINGS (Worldwide Initiatives for Grantmaker Support)

WINGS logoWINGS, a global network of grantmaker associations and support organizations, grew out of a meeting of philanthropic intermediary leaders held in Oaxaca, Mexico, in early 1998. Finding the opportunity to share their experiences particularly useful, participants who worked specifically with community foundations agreed to keep networking. The outcome, after two years of deliberations and planning, was the creation of the Worldwide Initiatives for Grantmaker Support, an international organization dedicated to giving voice to the many cultures of giving around the world by strengthening support for community philanthropy.

Since its establishment in 1999, WINGS has provided its intermediary members with online access to the latest information about the field and opportunities for peer-to-peer learning at a variety of regional and global gatherings. Additionally, a vigorous research program has built knowledge through mapping of community philanthropy funders, case studies of support organizations and a biannual Global Status Report on Community Foundations, which has tracked the growth of the community foundation movement since 2000.

The capacity-building resources provided by WINGS have contributed to both the proliferation and the increasing effectiveness of community foundation support organizations worldwide. As WINGS has documented, the presence of philanthropic intermediaries is strongly correlated to a good legal and fiscal environment for philanthropy, a higher prevalence of donors and more positive perceptions of the work and impact of community foundations.    

Active participation in the Community Foundation Atlas project was a natural fit with WINGS’s research agenda, according to project point persons Helena Monteiro, the executive director of WINGS, and Ana Borges Pinho, the organization’s knowledge management coordinator. Collecting and sharing more granular data about the field is a necessary first step toward improving philanthropic policy and practices, Monteiro and Pinho believe. Indeed, knowledge is one of the pillars of the strong global philanthropic community WINGS envisions.

For more information about the Worldwide Initiatives for Grantmaker Support, visit www.WingsWeb.org

Creative Team


Diana Tittle, Principal Writer

Diana Tittle has been a close observer of the Cleveland Foundation since 1987, when she was commissioned to write the foundation’s 75th anniversary history. The resulting study of the birth, maturation and enduring societal concerns of the world’s first community foundation, Rebuilding Cleveland: The Cleveland Foundation and Its Evolving Urban Strategy, was published by Ohio State University Press in 1992. Tittle went on to write monographs assessing the leadership styles and accomplishments of two of the foundation’s most respected CEOs: Homer Wadsworth (1974‒1984) and Steven A. Minter (1984‒2002). She is currently completing a monograph examining the visionary programmatic initiatives and noteworthy organizational innovations of the foundation’s current CEO and president, Ronald B. Richard.

In 2012, two years in advance of its 100th anniversary, the Cleveland Foundation commissioned Tittle to collaborate with the preeminent Cleveland design firm Nesnadny + Schwartz on the creation of a website commemorating the foundation’s invention by banker and groundbreaking philanthropist Frederick H. Goff. “The Cleveland Foundation: Leading 100 Years of Change” was unveiled on January 6, 2014. Ranging in scope from profiles of all the foundation’s executives and trustees to an evaluation of its Top 100 achievements, the site was an encyclopedic history—rendered  engaging and accessible by its sophisticated interactive format. 

Noting that one of the Cleveland Foundation’s most important legacies was in demonstrating the utility and flexibility of the concept of a community trust, Tittle suggested that the foundation also undertake to document the significance of Goff’s contribution to the world’s social and intellectual capital. Unexpectedly, her initial research on community foundations around the world uncovered the difficulty of arriving at a reliable count of their numbers, let alone appraising the value of their work.

Presented with the need for a comprehensive source of accurate information about the community foundation movement it had helped to inspire, the Cleveland Foundation committed to supervising the publication of an “atlas.” This nomenclature was inspired by the publication of the acclaimed Atlas of the Transatlantic Slave Trade (Yale University Press), 2011 nonfiction winner of the Cleveland Foundation–administered Anisfield-Wolf Awards.

A former newspaper reporter and magazine editor who has written or coauthored nine nonfiction books on urban affairs and regional history, Tittle received the Cleveland Arts Prize for Literature in 1997. Her contributions to the conceptualization and content of the Community Foundation Atlas mark another high point of her career, which has been devoted to reportage illuminating the strengths and the shortcomings of her adopted hometown.

Nesnadny + Schwartz, Interactive Design Firm

Nesnadny + Schwartz logoOn July 13, 2014, Mark Schwartz, the president and creative director of Nesnadny + Schwartz, passed away due to complications arising from recently diagnosed brain cancer. For most of the project’s two-year duration, Schwartz acted as principal lead, orchestrating the effort required to plan, schedule, design, and produce the Community Foundation Atlas. His probing intellect, lively imagination and relentless quest for perfection inspired the respect and dedication of his Atlas project partners. It seems fitting to conclude the overview of the Community Foundation Atlas project with a description of this remarkably productive collaboration written from Mark's perspective.

Sometimes, it’s an advantage to arrive at the table with a clean slate. As a nationally recognized design firm, we are accustomed to diving into projects of all sizes and requirements. Whether we’re coming up with savvy design solutions or creating new modes of visual communication, the road is typically well trodden for us. And though we’ve worked with many foundations over our 20-year history (including fellow atlas partner, the Cleveland Foundation), the Community Foundation Atlas project was entirely different in its scope. The aim: to create a global directory of the existing community foundations, down to every last staff member and dollar of grantmaking, and to share that information in a way that proves useful to experts and lay people alike. And, of course, the design had to be pixel-perfect, with interactive features and a seamless user experience. A high order, all around.

But we love a challenge and know a rare opportunity when we see one. Nearly a year later, with nearly 1,800 foundations in the database, 50 design mock-ups, 15,000 lines of code, and 60 brainstorming sessions under our belt, we have what we feel is a revolutionary contribution to the field of study, and if we can be so bold—the world. We’ve learned more than we ever thought we could by examining the data and survey responses, collaborating with our talented partners, and taking cues from experts in the field. This website is the product of much aggregation of resources and skills, as well as a healthy dose of creative courage. We’re not only proud of the website itself, but also the side roads of discovery and lasting relationships we’ve made along the way.

When you have no idea what will happen, the end product can either be a disaster or a one-of-a-kind experience—an experience that’s almost like magic. We hope this Community Foundation Atlas represents the latter for you, as it surely has for us at Nesnadny + Schwartz.