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What is Community Philanthropy?

Community philanthropy (CP) combines long-term local asset development with a focus on strengthening community capacities and agency. 

A powerful and simple logic underpins the basic idea of community philanthropy: 

 Community philanthropy is based on the premise that all communities have their own assets (money, skills, knowledge, networks, etc.). When these are pooled together, they build community power and voice. 

 By contributing their own resources, people start to feel like co-investors with a stake in their own development. 

 When people feel they have something at stake, they care more about the outcomes, and evidence shows that they become more invested in acting in ways that advance and protect their collective interests.

 When local contributions are brought to the table,
a different, flatter kind of power dynamic is created when dealing with external donors, which challenges traditional donor-beneficiary dynamics. 

 When local resources are mobilized, new, more horizontal forms of accountability emerge, based on trust and transparency. 

An emphasis on people-led and owned institutions

Our approach places a firm emphasis on the role of local resources, in the belief that these increase ownership and sustainability when they are gathered together within a single institution. Our aim is to draw and build on existing trust-based systems and to support them within a framework of organized community philanthropy – particularly when it comes to creating long-term and community-owned assets. We also seek to change opinions about the role that local resources can play in enhancing ownership and creating a culture of peer accountability – and we hope to help people to understand that the notion of the ‘local donor’ is no longer a contradiction.

The GFCF emphasizes the powerful role local grantmaking has to play in bringing about community empowerment and participation: by disbursing small grants a community foundation can help address the issue of low-absorptive capacity among local groups in many developing contexts and can shift both power and resources closer to the ground.

Community philanthropy organizations (CPOs) have much to offer international funders: they can make grantmaking more efficient, and they can provide local insight and outreach to grassroots community initiatives as well as a long-term and sustainable option to funders seeking an exit strategy from a particular country or region. In turn, where domestic philanthropy is still at an emergent stage, international funding can enable community philanthropy organizations to tackle root causes or ‘difficult’ social issues.

A growing global community philanthropy field

The global community philanthropy field is poised for growth. The voice and visibility of the field have increased dramatically in recent years, and new models, networks and voices have emerged. A joint report by the GFCF and Coady International Institute (and funded by the IDRC), The New Generation of Community Foundations(2011) notes the emerging community foundation phenomenon, particularly in the Global South, as offering new forms of social solidarity, which facilitate active citizenship and engagement. It also notes how many of these new institutions, which are seeking to emphasize the importance of local assets, are emerging in the context of bottom-up critiques of conventional channels of aid. The community foundation field alone has seen a steady growth in recent years: of the 1,800 self-described community foundations around the world, over half are now based outside North America, and this number can be considered a rather modest estimate when broader networks of community philanthropy are included, including women’s funds, rural funds, environmental funds and other types of indigenous foundations – as well as those national and regional foundations originally established with international support and now seeking to strengthen their community roots and legitimacy by cultivating a local donor base – all form part of this rich landscape. Other external drivers for this work have included attempts by multilateral institutions such as the World Bank to seed community foundations as a sustainability strategy for community-driven development programmes, as well as the growing occurrence of local trusts and foundations being established around new configurations of community-owned assets (whether around cultural heritage, community-owned tourism initiatives or extractive industries).

Our role

We are the only institution dedicated to supporting the development of community philanthropy organizations globally. Through small grants and hands-on technical assistance we can support start-up and institutional development processes at a very local level in a way that is beyond the capacities of large international funders.

As a global institution supporting grassroots philanthropy, we can provide a unique perspective on this emergent field. As a grantmaker, we can connect organizations and build networks regionally and internationally. As a knowledge hub, we can disseminate lessons we have learned and track regional and global trends (see our recent Grantcraft paper, How Community Philanthropy Shifts Power and What Donors Can Do To Help Make That Happen). As an advocate for community philanthropy, we can demonstrate the impact of community philanthropy organizations at the local level and serve as a ‘way in’ to the sector for other international donor institutions.

Dalia Association

Instituto Communitaro