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A Century of Community Foundations

On Friday, April 10th, the subject matter for the City Club luncheon was "A Century of Community Foundations: the Evolution and Future of American Philantrophic Innovation" and this was addressed in the form of a panel discussion featuring Mr. Brian Frederick, President and CEO, Community Foundation of Lorain County; Mr. John Garofalo, Vice President, Community Investment, Akron Community Foundation; Ms. India Pierce Lee, Program Director for Neighborhoods, Housing, and Community Development as part of the Cleveland Foundation; and Mr. Mark Sidel, Doyle-Bascom Professor of Law and Public Affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The discussion was moderated by Mr. Rick Jackson of WCPN Morning Addition. Prior to the start of the program, Mr. Dan Moulthrop, President and CEO of the City Club, encouraged the attendees to tweet about this event to their friends so that people would know that other things were going on in Cleveland besides "a CAV's game and a season opener" by which he meant the first game of the Cleveland Indians.

We said hello to several friends of Ms. Margaret W. Wong including Mr. Mitchell Wasserman, the President of Wasserman Consulting Group; Ms. Celeste Terry, Grants Manager of the United Black Fund of Greater Cleveland, Inc.; and Mr. Dennis Harris, Director of Youth Programs for the Office of Student Affairs at CWRU. Mr. Harris was very appreciative that Ms. Wong once had some nursing students who were visiting Cleveland from Hong Kong over to have lunch at her office.

Before we left home to drive over to this gathering, we looked up the definition of a community foundation and found out that "community foundations are grantmaking public charities that are dedicated to improving the lives of people in a defined local area." All of the panelists agreed that it was appropriate that this discussion take place in Cleveland because back in 1914, the Cleveland Foundation was the first community foundation in the world. Today there are 765 community foundation scattered around the United States and 1,800 around the world. They are both large and small.

As Mr. Sidel stated, and the other panelists readily agreed, community foundations face three major challenges that are finding and developing a relationship with donors who may want their money to be spent in particular areas (i.e. restricted funds vs. unrestricted funds); finding the best ways to serve their communities; and choosing to act in areas where a significant impact can be made. All of the panelists stressed the need for the work of community foundations to be closely coordinated with the efforts of government, private philantrophic organizations, and non-profits so that their efforts will not be duplicated. They also agreed that tough standards/rules and regulations were necessary in order for them to maintain their integrity and keep the public trust.

Each panelist talked about a project that they were proud to have participated in or a very promising project. For Ms. Pierce Lee it was the role that the Cleveland Foundation played in the revitalization of University Circle. Mr. Frederick spoke of a project, aimed at preserving agriculture, where a party could sign over his/her farm to the Community Foundation of Lorain County and they would farm it themselves and maintain the land. Mr. Garofalo wants to see the Akron Community Foundation do more work to assist seniors.

As for the future, it seems that the community foundation model is being employed all over the world and the Transatlantic Community Foundation was credited for bringing together field practitioners from 14 countries for meetings focused on shared learning, mutual skills building and information resource development. After the presentation we talked to a several of the participants and they told us that entrepreneurs who have immigrated to the United States from another country have the potential to play an important role in this process because they often want to send a significant portion of their capital back to their home country and a community foundation is recognized as an excellent vehicle for this.

To conclude, we think that Mr. Frederick really said it all when he stated his belief that the relationship between a community foundation and its community is like sitting in the from row of a mezzanine and being able to see all that goes on both on the stage and in the audience. And one has a season ticket for all times because a community foundation is rooted in the community and is not going anywhere.

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