Point of View

100 years of bettering lives through community foundations

February 24, 2014 

At its core, America is philanthropic. When we see a problem, we join hands to fix it, contributing our money, time and know-how.

And we have more than a few urgent problems. Too many among us are hungry, homeless, unskilled and unemployed. Too few kids graduate from high school.

These problems defy simple answers. But anyone, however modest their means, can be part of creating solutions, thanks in large part to organizations launched in Cleveland 100 years ago this month. Known as community foundations, they are, collectively, a multibillion-dollar engine for social good.

The more than 700 U.S. community foundations are philanthropic hubs supporting and connecting donors and nonprofits. They make it easy for generous people to create charitable funds, and they manage the funds and work with donors to support causes they care about.

Reflecting the deep generosity of Americans and their desire to help fix problems, U.S. community foundations steward more than $55 billion in assets, raise nearly $5 billion a year in new funds and make annual grants totaling $4.2 billion.

North Carolina is home to 12 nationally certified community foundations.

Since the first community foundation was formed in North Carolina in 1919, these foundations have helped donors create more than 9,000 charitable funds totaling approximately $2.4 billion. And over that same period, they have awarded a total of nearly $2.6 billion in grants to address causes from hunger and homelessness to the arts and environment. Annually, their grant-making totals more than $236 million.

The Triangle region of North Carolina is served by the Triangle Community Foundation and the North Carolina Community Foundation, both of which are accredited by the Community Foundations National Standards Board. They both have their own focus that reflects local needs, the value of their assets and the discretion donors have given them to make grants from their funds. Both have local philanthropy, collaboration and partnership at their core.


Your community foundations provide a permanent home for philanthropic funds created by individuals, families, entrepreneurs, companies and other organizations, and are a perpetual source of local philanthropic capital. With trillions of dollars expected to move between generations over the next 40 years, community foundations will play an indispensable role helping donors invest their dollars in local causes.

As experts on philanthropy, local needs and nonprofits, community foundations work with donors, and their lawyers, accountants and other professional advisers, to create charitable funds to meet donors’ family and business needs and reflect their personal values. They connect donors with nonprofits to advance their charitable interests. And they connect donors with one another so they can have a greater collective impact.

Community foundations are vital centers of knowledge for donors, nonprofits, businesses, government and citizens. They raise awareness of philanthropy and local issues and bring together local leaders and experts to talk about possible solutions. They also help nonprofits manage their operating reserves and endowments, and strengthen their organizations to better serve constituents.

Whatever their focus, and whether they work in our biggest cities or smallest counties, community foundations are an important source of philanthropic expertise and capital.

With our state facing pressing problems that elude quick fixes, our best hope of finding long-term solutions lies in the fundamentally American approach of working together to make our communities better.

Through your community foundations, every North Carolinian can play a part in building our successful collective future.

Lori O’Keefe is president of Triangle Community Foundation. Jennifer Tolle Whiteside is president and CEO of the North Carolina Community Foundation.

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