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What is a Community Foundation?

Community foundations place the power of philanthropy with everyday citizens, all of whom share a common interest: improving the quality of life in our community.


A foundation for the rest of us

Community foundations are a purely American invention that began way back in 1914 a mere 40 miles to our north in Cleveland.

Today, there are nearly 900 community foundations in the United States, with 52 in Ohio alone. The community foundation model has spread throughout the world.

What makes them special? 

Four things:

  1. They are geographically based and specifically serve the charitable people, companies and nonprofits of their locale.
  2. They help people with modest assets become philanthropists through named endowment funds. (You don't have to be a Rockefeller to be a philanthropist!)
  3. As a community-governed, permanently endowed nonprofit, they offer stability and independence like no other entity in town.
  4. They are public charities, meaning assets reflect a broad cross section of donors, not just a select few. Public charities offer a greater tax advantage on your gifts than private foundations.

What we have in common

While community foundations differ in individual operations, the Council on Foundations, the nation’s professional association of foundations, has outlined six characteristics of community foundations:

  • Flexible, yet permanent collection of funds supported by a wide range of donors
  • Relative independence to determine the best use of those funds to meet community needs
  • Governing board of volunteers knowledgeable about their community and recognized for their involvement in civic affairs
  • Commitment to provide leadership on pervasive community problems
  • Commitment to assist donors to identify and attain their philanthropic goals
  • Adherence to a sense of community that overrides individual interests and concerns

Learn more

Read more about the community foundation model of philanthropy and how they're transforming lives across the nation by visiting the Community Foundation Public Awareness Initiative.