Community foundations have a long history of supporting local and regional philanthropic efforts in the United States. In fact, the Cleveland Foundation—the nation’s first community foundation—dates back to 19141. According to the Council on Foundations, there are more than 750 community foundations across the United States today.
A community foundation is a public charity that typically focuses on supporting charities within a specific geographical area or a particular cause. They derive most of their financial support from local donors and are governed by a board of directors or trustees. Community foundations typically accept charitable donations and grant funds to a wide variety of causes, such as community services, the arts, education, the environment, health, and disaster relief within a specific geographic region.
Staff members at community foundations generally have a deep understanding of the local community and can leverage that knowledge to direct charitable funds where they can make the biggest impact. They often serve to bring people together who want to focus their funds and time on a common cause within a specific geographic region.
Program types and management
Community foundations offer numerous types of programs, including endowments, scholarships, and field of interest funds. Pooling your donations with those of other local donors enables you to support local or regional charities without incurring the administrative and legal costs of starting your own independent foundation. The foundation is responsible for overseeing the investment and administration of donors’ funds.
Some community foundations also offer donor-advised funds, which allow you to take an immediate tax deduction and then recommend grants to eligible charitable organizations on your own schedule.
Community foundations typically accept a wide variety of assets, including appreciated securities, real estate, and closely-held stock. As with other types of charitable giving vehicles, donors may be able to claim certain tax benefits when they donate to a community foundation. This includes a potential immediate tax deduction of up to 50% of adjusted gross income for cash donations and 30% for donations of long-term appreciated assets.
Evolution of community foundations
Community foundations were originally designed to serve a specific geographic region, such as a city, state, or region. Due to increased mobility and the Internet, however, the definition of “community” is evolving at some community foundations. The word community today may encompass a particular cause or interest, without any geographic boundaries. As a result, some community foundations today allow donors to support national and international charities.
Generally, community foundations have a higher initial contribution requirement and higher administrative fees than a public charity that is the sponsoring organization of a national donor advised fund program, yet the costs are lower than a private foundation. Therefore, a community foundation may be a good choice for those who are focused primarily on supporting a specific region, cause, or local organization.
If you want to make charitable donations that can make an impact beyond the boundaries of a particular city, state, or region, determine whether your local community foundation offers a donor-advised fund option. If not, establishing a donor-advised fund at a national sponsoring organization may be an option worth exploring.