Denver Foundation

Source: Chapin Hall Center for Children (University of Chicago)

Date: 2006

The Denver Foundation (TDF) is a community foundation dedicated to improving the quality of life for people who live in the seven-county Metro Denver, Colorado, area. TDF invests and distributes earnings from donor gifts to nonprofit organizations and manages specific donor-advised philanthropic programs. It also has created initiatives to address social goals, including the Strengthening Neighborhoods Program, which fosters leadership, social networks, and economic improvement in nine contiguous Denver neighborhoods and a neighborhood in adjacent Aurora. Strengthening Neighborhoods provides grants to groups of residents in the target neighborhoods for various projects and activities. The grants go directly to neighborhood residents rather than to established nonprofits and—combined with consultation from foundation staff, connections to technical assistance providers, and partnership with local nonprofits—support resident-driven planning, programming, and social action. For several years, Chapin Hall has been working with a group of foundations that have an uncommon approach to their philanthropic mission. These foundations are applying many of the principles identified as key for foundations attempting to promote positive community change. We have dubbed their operating style embedded philanthropy because what distinguishes them from conventional philanthropies is an unusually intimate and enduring engagement with the communities in which they live and work. A long-term, place-based commitment is the first criterion for embedded philanthropy. A second criterion is a commitment to direct and ongoing community engagement and relationships with a range of community actors. Thirdly, embedded funders don’t think of these relationships as incidental or secondary aspects of their community work; they constitute the very means and method through which embedded funders do philanthropy. Finally, whether or not monetary grants are part of an embedded funder’s approach, their community engagement and change efforts consist of a good deal more than grant-making. Beyond these four defining features, embedded funders tend to share several other characteristics: an unusually flexible and adaptive approach to their work; a high tolerance for uncertainty; an emphasis on respect and reciprocity in their approach to community relationships; and a willingness to sacrifice a measure of the power and authority that foundations ordinarily possess. In a philanthropic climate of growing eagerness for new perspectives and departures, embedded philanthropy deserves greater attention from the wider philanthropic community. Its distinctive operating approach offers novel insights and leverage on the challenges and dilemmas faced by all philanthropic foundations.

Link: Denver Foundation

Keyword: Partnership

Region: Northern America