What is a Community Foundation?

The community foundation is a hybrid. Unlike its cousin, the private foundation (whose financial base most likely comes from a single donor, family, or company), the community foundation garners it support from the public. It grows because individuals, corporations, and even government entities and other nonprofits believe in it and help its continual growth year after year.

The community foundation is also unlike other nonprofit charities that focus on specific area of interest, such as health care, disaster relief, and the arts, or specific causes, such as poverty, heart disease, and the ballet. The support provided by a community foundation is not limited to one area. The community foundation looks to the well-being of the total community, no just one part of it.

Traditionally, a community foundation has four roles. It serves as a:

  • Builder and caretaker of permanent community resources
  • Service provider to donors
  • Grantmaker
  • Convener, catalyst, and collaborator within the community

However, because community foundations reflect the changing nature of their communities, they are often as different from one another as are the communities they serve. The mission or focus of a foundation will change depending upon its philosophy, stage of growth, and the size and composition of its asset base.

Community Foundation Fact Sheet: General Information

How is a Community Foundation different from other public charities?

Most public charities provide direct and specific services to the community, such as feeding the hungry, providing shelter, or developing health care education. They are what people tend to think of when they use the term “nonprofits”. When donors make gifts to these organizations, they are usually making a gift to help the organization perform a specific service.

On the other hand, a community foundation, while also a public charity, is primarily a grantmaker and not a direct service provider. Rather than focus on servicing a particular community need, and community foundation serves donors and the broad needs of the community.

Finally, like other public charities, community foundations must continue to meet IRS charitable standards to keep their status. However, community foundations generally seek support through individual gifts in the form of substantial lifetime gifts or bequests, rather than the small annual gifts from the public that most other public charities target.