The Various Tools and Processes that Community Foundations Use to Improve Practice

United States28

General Experiences

In the United States, community foundations are responsible for administering more than $40 billion in charitable funds serving the concerns of 700 communities.29 In 2008, giving by community foundations at $4.6 billion topped for the first time that of corporate foundation giving.30

The National Standards

In place since 200031 are the National Standards for U.S. Community Foundations™ to ensure that grant-making, funds management and other core operations of community foundations are practiced responsibly and effectively. The Council on Foundations and its partners spearheaded the development of the standards in the late 1990s. The Standards Action Team of the Community Foundations Leadership Team put together the compliance processes and in 2005, the Council began accrediting community foundations. In 2009, administration of the standards was undertaken by the Community Foundations National Standards Board (CFNSB), a supporting organization of the Council on Foundations.

There are standards for the six major areas of community foundation operations. The first area, ‘Mission, structure and governance’ bears the most number of standards:

  • Definition of a Community Foundation (1 standard)
  • Mission, structure and governance (16 standards)
  • Resource Development (5 standards)
  • Stewardship and Accountability (8 standards)
  • Grant-making and Community Leadership (6 standards)
  • Donor Relations (4 standards)
  • Communications (1 standard)

Symbol of excellence and rigor

Below is a summary of key points about the 41 National Standards, as presented in as well as from other sources.

  • Evidence of Excellence

    The National Standards Seal is provided to compliant organizations for easy recognition by philanthropists and their professional advisers looking to community foundations as giving vehicles. For example, the Seal is featured beside the names of compliant organizations in the Guide Star, the largest database of non profit organizations. The Seal is valid for a period of five (5) years.

    The largest community foundations use the standards as evidence of excellence, highest levels of accountability and commitment to service. The smaller, younger community foundations use the standards “to certify their achievement of comprehensive basic services…marking a true community foundation.”32

  • Accountability

    The standards provide a roadmap to establish legal, ethical, effective practices that withstand the scrutiny of donors, government and media. Emerging community foundations have used the standards as an important resource, using it as a base on which to build high levels of operational integrity. Self-regulation of the community foundation field is also accomplished.

  • Impact

    Consistent expectations of community foundation boards and other actors are defined by the standards. They also provide a framework for documenting, communicating and providing training and technical assistance to advance best practices.

  • Distinction

    Because there are ‘benchmarks for quality in operations and service,’ community foundations can be distinguished from other non-profit groups for the unique ways they provide their services.

28Report based on inputs from Diane Miller and website references as referred by Donnell Merseareau, Council of Michigan Foundations
30P.Johnson, Global Institutional Philanthropy: Preliminary Status Report 2010, WINGS and The Philanthropic Initiative. p.9-10
31Exploratory language was added in 2002.
32The Guide for Community Foundation Board Members, BoardSource and the Council on Foundations, 2003, p. 45.