Community Philanthropy

Semantics Matter

A “Big-Tent” Definition of the Movement

In the United States, the birthplace of the concept of a community trust, it is easy to characterize such organizations. American community foundations must meet strict financial requirements defined by federal law. Also facilitating identification, the majority of U.S. community foundations adhere to national standards of principled behavior developed by the Council on Foundations, the American field’s professional development and advocacy organization.

As the concept has spread around the world, the model Western structure of community foundations as legally recognized charities has been reshaped to meet the needs of different societies and times. Movement leaders have struggled to formulate an accepted definition of a community foundation that works in all contexts internationally.

“The Value of Community Philanthropy,” a 2012 report synthesizing several years of roundtable discussions hosted by the Aga Khan Foundation USA and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, has argued in favor of using this more inclusive term to describe the spreading philanthropic movement of which community foundations are the cornerstone. Such “big tent” language covers both chartered and unchartered ways in which individual citizens can help one another by sharing resources for the common good.

If there is one defining characteristic of community philanthropy, according to British social scientist Barry Knight, roundtable facilitator, report author and Community Foundation Atlas project research partner, it is this: “Local people put in some of their own money to develop long-term assets for a community.”

Finding this line of reasoning persuasive, the Community Foundation Atlas has welcomed to its pages legally recognized community trusts and philanthropic organizations and endeavors that meet the abovementioned criterion and self-identify as community foundations.

Further Reading

Additional Background and Perspectives

Atlas project partners have written or supported (as in the case of the first reference below) a number of landmark publications about the community foundation movement.  For an overview of the movement’s history, consult:

Eleanor W. Sacks, “The Growth of Community Foundations Around the World: An Examination of the Vitality of the Community Foundation Movement,” Council on Foundations, 2000.

Sowing the Seeds of Local Philanthropy: Two Decades in the Field of Community Foundations,” Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, 2001.

Community Foundations: Rooted Locally, Growing Globally,” Special Section, Charles Stewart Mott Foundation 2012 Annual Report.

To learn more about the concept of community philanthropy, consult:

Jenny Hodgson and Barry Knight, “More than the Poor Cousin? The Emergence of Community Foundations as a New Development Paradigm,” Global Fund for Community Foundations, June 2010.

Barry Knight, “The Value of Community Philanthropy: Results of a Consultation,” Aga Khan Foundation USA and Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, February 2012.

Barry Knight, “The Case for Community Philanthropy: How the Practice Builds Local Assets, Capacity and Trust—and Why It Matters,” Global Alliance for Community Philanthropy, 2013.