How to Start a Community Foundation

This site will give some basic guidelines regarding community foundation and provide you with some valuable website links where you can obtain further information. A community foundation is basically a “community savings account”. It consists of a collection of permanently restricted and unrestricted funds that serve a specific geographic area.

Some of the factors to consider are:

  • Population size: As a community’s population grows, a fund will likely find it easier to grow.
  • Philanthropic tradition: Some questions to ask – Who controls the wealth currently and are these people philanthropically inclined? Does your area have any family, corporate, or school foundations? Are the corporations or small companies in your town philanthropically and socially responsible? What other major fund raising campaigns occur locally? What are the number, range and scope of nonprofits in your area? From where do they get their funding?
  • Sense of community: If people feel strong connections to their comunity they are more inclined to want to give something back to the community.
  • Staffing: Foundations that tend to grow faster have the benefit of someone who can spend the time required to develop the foundation, usually someone working full time.
  • Board leadership: Board members should represent all aspects of a community and they need to be committed to spend the time and energy necessary for a successful foundation.
  • Challenge grants and technical assistance: Private foundations, corporations, wealthy community members, and governmental units are all sources of the seed money to help a community foundation get off the ground.

Some useful websites that will help your community begin its foundation are:

  • This site is provided by the Council on Foundations and includes the following topics: what is a foundation, starting a foundation, resources for foundations, legal and government affairs, links and networking, and the future of foundations.
  •¬†¬†This website lists the community foundation located in various states.

Other useful sources:

  • Agard, Kathryn A., Helen Monore, and Ed SUllivan. 1992. Community Foundation Primer; An Outline for Discussion and an Initial Orgnization Start-Up Kit. Grand Haven: Council of Michigan Foundations.
  • Council of Michigan Foundation, One South Harbor Avenue, Suite Three, PO Box 599, Grand Haven, MI 49417 (616) 842-7080, Director for Community Foundations: Donnell Mersereau
  • Council of Foundations, 1828 L Street NW, Washington, DC 20036 (202) 466-6512
  • Mayer, E. Steven. 1994. Building Community Capacity: The Potential of Community Foundations. Minneapolis: Rainbow Research Inc.
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