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Knowledge Base

What is a community foundation? Where can I learn more about them?

A community foundation is a tax-exempt charitable organization that provides support -- primarily for the needs of the geographic community or region where it is based -- from funds that it maintains and administers on behalf of multiple donors.

Like a public charity, community foundations seek support from the general public, but like private foundations, they also provide grants. Due to their broad public support, however, the IRS does not consider community foundations to be private foundations.

In addition to their own grant programs, many community foundations manage and/or administer:

  • Donor advised funds, on behalf of individual donors
  • Scholarship funds, on behalf of individual donors
  • Technical assistance/training programs for nonprofits

Thus, nonprofits can benefit from staying updated on their local community foundation's activities and programs, even if they are not actively seeking grants from it.

The Cleveland Foundation is the first community foundation in the U.S., founded in 1914 by banker and lawyer Frederick H. Goff. The model has since been replicated across the country and beyond. Today, there are over 800 community foundations across the United States.

According to the Cleveland Foundation, Goff's vision was "to pool the charitable resources of Cleveland's philanthropists, living and dead, into a single, great, and permanent endowment for the betterment of the city. Community leaders would then forever distribute the interest that the trust’s resources would accrue to fund 'such charitable purposes as will best make for the mental, moral, and physical improvement of the inhabitants of Cleveland.'"

To find a community foundation in your area, you can use Council on Foundations' Community Foundation Locator (bottom area of the page).

More Knowledge Base articles about foundations»

For more information on community foundations, selected resources below may also be helpful.

Web Sites

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