The Future of Community Philanthropy

by Jason Franklin, Ph.D.

The W.K. Kellogg Community Philanthropy Chair is the first endowed chair explicitly focusing on community philanthropy. Given this new focus, after accepting this role one of the first questions I grappled with was naturally: “what do we mean by community philanthropy?” After many discussions and reflection, I would suggest that community philanthropy is a combination of two complementary aspects: how we give together in community and how we give to communities we care about. Given that definition, I am framing my work as Kellogg Chair as seeking to answer a singular central question: how do we give better together and strengthen our giving to the communities we care about?

When thinking about giving better together, the Kellogg Chair’s focus is on advancing the work of community and public foundations, giving circles, donor networks, funder collaboratives, crowd funding platforms and others who are building and adapting vehicles for collective giving. In the second area of strengthening giving to communities we care about, the Kellogg Chair’s focus is on understanding the connections that move people to give to their communities and improving their giving practices, both to place-based communities (i.e. giving in a city, state, region, country) and communities of identity (i.e. Latino community, the LGBT community, a diaspora community).

Part of the excitement of engaging with community philanthropies today is the fact that they are among the fastest growing institutional forms of giving around the globe. Between 2000 and 2010, the most common type – community foundations – grew by 86% with an average of 70 institutions created every year according to the latest Global Status Report on Community Foundations from WINGS, the Worldwide Initiatives for Grantmaker Support. A century after the Cleveland Foundation was established in 1914 as the first community foundation, the Community Foundation Atlas was launched to map the individual identities, locations, assets, roles and achievements of place-based and other community philanthropies around the world. Today, the Atlas catalogues 1,843 place-based foundations around the world granting more than US$5 billion annually…and almost three quarters are less than 25 years old.

The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation and Aga Khan Foundation USA have been among the key supporters of this growing field of community philanthropy. In their 2012 Case for Community Philanthropy, they noted that this dramatic growth has many causes including “organizations supporting development of the practice, a flexible organizational model, long-term funding, and expanding efforts to build civil society across the globe.” We have seen similar rapid growth in giving circles with estimates of several thousand circles now operating around the country and in crowdfunding as well. Indeed, the 2015 Crowdfunding Industry Report found that donation- and reward-based crowdfunding platforms continue to grow dramatically (45% and 84% respectively) and totaled over $3 billion in 2014 worldwide.

While it is impossible to perfectly predict the future, when I look ahead I see continued growth and diversification on the horizon for community philanthropy. Asset growth, diversification of services, and exploring new ways of stepping up as community leaders and innovators will continue to be top priorities among US community foundations. At the same time, community foundations will continue to grapple with the place-based definition of community in a time of rising mobility and to prove their worth and impact amid ever increasing options for donors to manage their giving. Crowdfunding platforms will platforms for giving and investing will continue to expand and I expect them to be an increasingly important facet of the philanthropic landscape in the years to come. Giving circles and funder collaboratives seem both to be enjoying a resurgence of interest as focused and flexible structures for small groups of donors and/or funders to come together to learn and give together. I expect we will see more experimentation with models for these collaborative giving vehicles and testing of new approaches including online and large-scale circles. Finally, when I look beyond US borders, I see an ever-expanding interest in community philanthropy as a tool for civic engagement and transparency, collective investment in local social services, and mobilization of voluntary resources to complement and supplement shifting (and often falling) government investment. Indeed, the recent call for research proposals issued by the Johnson Center for Philanthropy and the Global Fund for Community Foundations yielded almost 50 proposals from over 25 countries on an incredibly diverse range of topics.

It is an exciting time to be involved in the field of community philanthropy, as it continues to both dramatically grow and continually evolve. Questions of how we give together in community and how we give to communities we care about are as urgent now as they were with the launch of the first community foundation over 100 years ago, just imagine what questions we will be asking after another century of growth has taken place! I would love to hear what trends you see on the horizon for the field and questions you have for the future.


Dr. Franklin is the W.K. Kellogg Community Philanthropy Chair, the nation’s first endowed chair focused on community philanthropy, at the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy at Grand Valley State University.

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