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Local Action

As human beings, it’s in our nature to help.

Yet, how we move from recognizing a need to actively addressing it — that can be daunting. As community residents and philanthropic institutions, we don’t always know where to start.

Community-based philanthropy has long been a focus at the Johnson Center. But we recently found ourselves wondering about where that philanthropy begins. Our ongoing work with neighborhood associations, with family philanthropists beginning their donor journeys, with evolving community data needs — these projects and others are driving us to examine the methods and motivators that move us all from idea to impact. And as we engage with partners and colleagues in the field, we recognize we’re not the only ones asking this question.

The Johnson Center worked with partners and friends from across the country to offer answers to the question, “How do I begin?” Field Focus: Local Action explores how individuals and organizations first plug into the communities they care about, and spur others to action as well.


A Shift in Orientation to Our Community: Perspective from a Place-Based Foundation

Photo: Diana Siegerby Diana Sieger

The president and CEO of the Grand Rapids Community Foundation reflects on how GRCF is using an equity lens to reshape its role in local change efforts. “We realized that as the community continued to evolve and change, we needed to seek alignment around who we are, what donors and stakeholders expect of us, and how we can best serve and be in partnership with the community.”

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In conversation with the Center for Arab American Philanthropy

Photo: Katy Hayek AsuncionFeaturing Katy Hayek Asuncion

We spoke with Katy Hayek Asuncion at the Center for Arab American Philanthropy in Dearborn, Mich. about how the organization has supported ethnic community philanthropy through flexible, responsive efforts to balance local engagement with national and international perspectives.

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Whose needle are you trying to move?

Photo: Elizabeth Gordilloby Elizabeth Gordillo

Foundation staff and boards often look to answer a deceptively simple question, “Are we moving the needle?” But there’s a bigger question at stake: whose needle are we talking about? Elizabeth Gordillo recounts her experience at the American Evaluation Association’s 2018 Conference — how she was inspired by presentations that explored the inherent power-dynamics between foundations and nonprofits and those who went even further.

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National Service, Local Action: Stories from AmeriCorps

Photo: AnnMaura Connollyby AnnMaura Connolly

AmeriCorps’ mission is about activating our American community in service of the countless communities we belong to as individuals. By blending national and local programming and impact, we promote a stronger civil society. One that is built on knowing each other better. This is a human story, and best told by and through the people themselves. In this feature, AnnMaura Connelly shares three stories of Americans who recognized a need in their national community and stepped forward to lead community change, spurring countless others into action where it’s needed most.

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Top-down, Meet Bottom-up (Elite Power, New Power, and Sharing Power)

Photo: Paul Schmitzby Paul Schmitz

Does change come from the bottom up or top down? Paul Schmitz, CEO of Leading Inside Out and Senior Advisor to The Collective Impact Forum, calls for us to better understand the dynamics that allow bottom-up and top-down to work together: the need for people to believe in their ability to lead and the need for leaders in positions of traditional power to share or give up power.

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Rebuilding Trust in Civil Society Means Rebuilding Trust in Each Other

Photo: Dan Cardinaliby Dan Cardinali

Is it possible that the ‘institutionalization’ of the nonprofit sector has become so unwieldy that we are unintentionally impeding the private efforts that can lead to community-centered problem solving? Could this oversight of the value of community-led actions be a contributor to the decline of trust in civil society? In this post, Dan Cardinali of Independent Sector explores how we might reconnect with the ideal of private action and begin to restore the all-important bond of trust in each other and in civil society.

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Taking a Systems Approach to Change with Young Americans

Photo: Derrick Feldmannby Derrick Feldmann

The ultimate goal of social movements is change. The issue may be saving the earth’s oceans, expanding voting rights, improving a group’s standard of living, or addressing one of the many social ills that exist. The bottom line is that those of us representing a cause want something specific to change. While passionate, enthusiastic young people often respond spontaneously to the actions we take to inspire them, couldn’t we use a more measured, systematic approach to launching and sustaining our social movements?

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Change Can Start Anywhere. It’s Up to Philanthropy to Get Onboard.

Photo: Dennis McMillianby Dennis McMillian

Consultant and author Dennis McMillian shares the story of Aurora Johnson, a woman from a small Alaskan village who understood the health challenges faced by her community, and decided to do something about it. She uprooted her family for two years of study abroad, and became a pioneer in the innovative and proven Dental Health Aide Therapist model that has now reset the boundaries for dental care in America.

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Local Action: Philanthropy’s Answer to “Where Do I Start?”

Photo: Tory Martinby Tory Martin

As the social sector expanded and professionalized throughout the 20th century, the organizations doing the work of community change were often moving further and further away from the community itself. Today, philanthropic individuals and organizations are working to reverse this trend through strategies like participatory grantmaking, community data-informed decision making, and stronger communications.

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Giving Tuesday: Harnessing the Power of a Global Movement for Local Action

We’re joined in this webinar by three Giving Tuesday campaign leaders at the national, state, and city levels who share stories and insights from their experiences leading and supporting regional movements.

Since the first Giving Tuesday in 2012, several states and cities — like Baltimore, Charlotte, Dallas, and Memphis — have experimented with organizing their own, more local Giving Tuesday campaigns to raise funds and awareness for state- and city-wide nonprofits. Why do some of these campaigns catch fire, while others burn out? We discuss the challenges and successes as experienced by our panelists.

Guest Panel:

Moderator: Tory Martin, director of communications and engagement at the Johnson Center

Original recording date: October 23, 2018

Watch the webinar on YouTube

The Foundation Review

Explore peer-reviewed reports, evaluation results, tools, and book reviews aimed at improving your impact in The Foundation Review, the Johnson Center’s quarterly journal on philanthropy.

The Colorado Trust’s Healthy Communities Initiative: Results and Lessons for Comprehensive Community Initiatives

This article from Vol. 1, Issue 1 summarizes how 29 diverse communities throughout Colorado implemented the Colorado Healthy Communities Initiative (CHCI), which was conceived and funded by The Colorado Trust to engage community residents in the development of locally relevant strategies to improve community health. The most common action projects focused on community problem solving, civic engagement, and youth development. Many of the grantees established projects or new institutions that had a long-term community impact.

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Scope, Scale and Sustainability: What it Takes to Create Lasting Community Change

This article examines success factors that relate specifically to the ability of a comprehensive community initiative (CCI) to achieve the scope and scale required to generate community-level outcomes and to sustain those positive impacts over time.

This article from Vol. 1, Issue 1 examined CCIs involving a range of goals, strategies, and organizational structures to determine six key factors that contribute to sustainable, community-change level success.

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Using Community-Based Participatory Evaluation (CBPE) Methods as a Tool to Sustain a Community Health Coalition

Participatory evaluation has set the standard for cooperation between program evaluators and stakeholders. Coalition evaluation, however, calls for more extensive collaboration with the community at large. The Community-Based Participatory Evaluation method (CBPE) has proved essential in sustaining two substance abuse coalitions in and around Boston: Revere Cares (RC) and The Charlestown Substance Abuse Coalition (CSAC). CBPE forms a fitting bookend to the concept of participatory grantmaking, which foregrounds community voices in the allocation of philanthropic resources.

This article is from Vol. 1, Issue 1.

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Youth Civic Engagement for Dialogue and Diversity at the Metropolitan Level

The “Youth Dialogues on Race and Ethnicity in Metropolitan Detroit” program came out of a foundation official’s desire to take some action to combat racial segregation and social isolation among teenagers in the increasingly segregated Metro Detroit area. The article’s author and the foundation professional designed a program based on university-level intergroup dialogues and then assessed its impact on participants and their communities.

This article, from Vol. 1, Issue 2, recounts how youth participants increased their knowledge of their own racial and ethnic identities and those of others, increased their awareness and understanding of racism and racial privilege, and developed leadership skills and took actions to challenge racism in their communities.

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Turning the Ship: Moving From Clinical Treatment to Environmental Prevention: A Health Disparities Policy Advocacy Initiative

The California Endowment’s Community Action to Fight Asthma Initiative (CAFA) took a non-traditional approach to reducing health disparities. CAFA fostered community activity to effect change in the areas of education, housing, and environmental policy. Twelve community coalitions were funded; each developed its own policy targets and strategies.

This article, from Vol. 1, Issue 3, outlines many of the factors that contributed to the success of the initiative, including structuring the initiative on a systems change model, employing multiple technical assistance providers to assure fidelity to the model, and other suggestions.

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Developing a Master Data Sharing Agreement: Seeking Student-Level Evidence to Support a Collaborative Community Effort in Education

A private foundation, a public school system, and a state university joined forces to address a difficult, long-standing challenge: closing the academic achievement gap between urban and suburban students. While designing the program, all parties came to the shared conclusion that a Master Data Sharing Agreement (MDSA) to facilitate the flow of students’ and outcome data was paramount to their success. Reaching the agreement required a shared vision, definitive research, ample investment, and fidelity to a common language: data.

This article is from Vol. 3, Issue 4. The MDSA text has been released online for public use under the Creative Commons license (Community Research Institute, 2011a).

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Dimensions of Change: A Model for Community Change Efforts

In this article from Vol. 4, Issue 3, the authors outline their Dimensions of Change Model as a potentially useful tool for foundations, government bodies, consultants, and organizations involved in substantive efforts to bring about community change. The model is offered as a way to design, implement, adapt, and evaluate change initiatives. The work of First 5 Marin Children and Families Commission is used as an example to stimulate reflection and discussion.

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Investigating the Roles of Community Foundations in the Establishment and Sustainability of Local College Access Networks

The authors use the FSG Collective Impact Model as a framework to examine the role of community foundations in the creation and establishment of local college access networks across the state of Michigan. Their findings illustrate that community foundations have played a variety of roles, from fundraising to convening to cheerleading. The challenge for most communities is how to develop a plan for sustainability while allowing others to provide leadership for these evolving organizations for social change.

This article is from Vol. 4, Issue 3.

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Models of Social Change: Community Foundations and Agenda Setting

The first step in community change is identifying — and coming to consensus on — priorities. This article, from Vol. 4, Issue 4, focuses on a particular approach to large-scale, community-based educational change — Local College Access Networks in the state of Michigan — to answer two key questions: What factors serve to shape the social-change agenda? And how can community foundations serve to promote and advance that agenda?

The authors find that local agendas are influenced by both local pressures to adapt to the community context and state incentives and pressures to conform to a set of programmatic priorities. They conclude that those responsible for managing the change agenda must simultaneously be able to attend to both dimensions.

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Activating the Power of Place: A Case Study of Market Creek

When the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation (JCNI) set about designing a strategy for building well-being and wealth in San Diego’s historically underserved Diamond Neighborhood, they began by identifying entry points for community engagement and building local capacity. Together with community residents, they designed and implemented a strategy for creating “place” out of “space.”

This article is from Vol. 7, Issue 3.

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PIMBY: Philanthropy in My Back Yard

NCRP’s 2015 webinar, “PIMBY: Philanthropy in My Back Yard” connects the Kresge Foundation, the subject of a Philamplify report, to the practice of place-based grantmaking, and discusses how foundation investment in communities is a prime strategy for long-term success. Watch the recorded webinar here.

Webinar participants include: NCRP Project Associate Caitlin Duffy; Tahirih Ziegler, Executive Director, LISC Detroit; Laura Zabel, Executive Director, Springboard for the Arts; and Sheri Brady, Senior Associate for Strategic Partnerships, The Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions

Watch the Webinar
Funding Locally

Local philanthropy has a long and impressive history. Individuals have given to help communities where they feel a special connection over many generations. And community foundations have for decades epitomized the potential to build nonprofit capacity and philanthropy in a particular area. Philanthropists — no matter where they want to focus their giving — can use local relationships and local knowledge to seek impact.

This guide from Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors seeks to build on the powerful heritage of funding locally. It emphasizes the range of opportunities for both established and emerging philanthropists — opportunities that allow them to expand their reach.

View the Guide
#ShiftThePower: The Rise of Community Philanthropy

In this special feature on community philanthropy from Alliance Magazine, Jenny Hodgson and Barry Knight propose a new paradigm called ‘durable development’. Their strategy involves shifting power closer to the ground, giving agency to local people and their organizations on the principle that they should have greater control of their own destinies.

The growing field of community philanthropy has much to contribute towards such a paradigm shift because it marks a distinct break with many of the conventions — and resulting distortions — of mainstream development. The ‘three-legged stool’ of community philanthropy combines asset development, capacity building, and the strengthening of trust between multiple local and external stakeholders. Durable development follows John Ruskin’s maxim — ‘when we build, let us think we build forever.’

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