What does Community Philanthropy Look Like?

What makes the global spread of community philanthropy organizations so exciting is the variety of forms they take, adaptations to different local contexts, challenges, resources, and leaders. The core similarities matter— all in some way help geographic communities mobilize financial and other kinds of capital for improvement of the lives of residents. But so do the differences. Some have endowments, some don’t. Some are large, more are small. Some call themselves community foundations, others do not. This diversity is one sign of community philanthropy’s flexibility, potential, and rising popularity.

But it also presents a challenge to those who want to better understand and support community philanthropy, especially on a global level. A practice so varied, so organic and tied to local conditions, complicates classification, resists general conclusions, and calls for lots of learning through example.

A movement relatively young and quickly evolving, with a limited body of applied research, requires ongoing documentation and study.

So it was that the C. S. Mott Foundation—which has supported a number of initiatives to strengthen and expand community philanthropy—commissioned Barry Knight of CENTRIS to explore the work and develop case studies of eight community philanthropy organizations around the world:

  • Amazon Partnerships Foundation
  • Black Belt Community Foundation
  • Bolu Donors Foundation
  • Community Foundation for South Sinai
  • Fundacion Comunitaria de la Frontera Norte
  • Healthy City Community Foundation
  • Instituto Comunitário Grande Florianópolis
  • Tuzla Community Foundation

The cases, written by Barry Knight and his colleague Andrew Milner, provide intriguing snapshots of locally driven development in communities across the globe. In South Sinai, Egypt, Bedouin farmers dig wells, improve their schools, and register to vote. Indigenous communities in the Amazon plant trees, learn new cacao cultivation methods, and manage projects to harvest rainwater. Young people in the American South are equipped with cameras to document their culture and counter stereotypes. Local donors and NGOs come together in Bolu, Turkey, to raise funds for an education center, while nearly 7,000 miles away similar groups coalesce around a project to map civil society assets in Florianópolis, Brazil. Organizations serving Roma populations are formed in Banská Bystrica, Slovakia. Young people in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, learn leadership skills to shape alternatives to drug trafficking and violence.A community center is renovated in the war-damaged town of Tuzla, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

This is community philanthropy in action, a virtuous cycle of local participation, contribution and development. How organizations were able to support these activities, and what helped and hindered them along the way, is explored in the case studies.

Click on the attachment to read the case studies.