Community Change Makers: The Leadership Roles of Community Foundations

Chapin Hall Center for Children (University of Chicago)



Case Study Sector


This paper identifies and illustrates key ways in which community foundations throughout the country are developing and expanding their leadership roles in their communities, while also making internal institutional adjustments to support those roles. The paper suggests that community foundations' unique access, agility, credibility, and local knowledge place them in a pivotal position at the center of community life. Their diverse intellectual, institutional and financial resources enable them to foster and harness untapped community resources and to braid pieces of a community into something greater than the sum of the parts. Because community foundations' skill at grantmaking is well known, the authors emphasize five other aspects of their change-making roles to improve residents' lives in poor neighborhoods, including contributing ideas and information, fostering strategic connections, expanding resources devoted to change, leveraging systems change, and promoting performance. The organizational changes that community foundations make in order to play their expanded roles effectively include: clarifying mission and strategy, aligning the organization, and building a board for leadership. The paper is drawn primarily from data collected at four four-day meetings, designed and facilitated by Chapin Hall and sponsored by the Coalition of Community Foundations for Youth, with a group of senior community foundation leaders. The stories used to illustrate the larger points were chosen to exemplify the practices to which many community foundations aspire.



  • Partnership
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  • Northern America

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