Community foundations are key partners in achieving U.N. goals

The world’s first community foundation was established in Cleveland in 1914. Today, there are almost 1,900 community foundations — 75 percent of them created in the last 25 years. Among these are 1,033 in North America, 670 in Europe, 62 in Asia, 56 in Oceania, 31 in Africa and 11 in South America.

Community foundations are independent charitable organizations designed to collect and combine donations, conduct research into community needs and make grants within a defined geographic area. As such, they are “place-based” — pooling resources to meet a community’s unique needs. They are well-positioned to both facilitate and lead civil discourse, with the goal of finding shared solutions to local problems.

In May’s column, U.N.’s development goals are a roadmap for powerful donor impact (Denver Post, May 12, 2018), I detailed the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which established a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

The SDGs offer a roadmap for the world’s governments, businesses and philanthropists to engage the continuing challenges that threaten billions of people — and the planet itself. Recently, the World Bank published an Atlas of Sustainable Development Goals.

Community foundations will play an important role in achieving the SDGs.  Vikki Spruill, president and CEO of the Council on Foundations, puts it well:

“The 17 SDGs represent a global agenda. But they require local action to achieve them. Community foundations ­— place-based, grassroots organizations addressing local challenges — have been overlooked as a means to achieving the SDGs. There is a major opportunity before us to leverage their unmatched convening power and local knowledge to improve lives on a global scale.”

Earlier this year, the Council issued “Local Leadership, Global Impact: Community Foundations and the Sustainable Development Goals.” This report highlights global community foundations working to achieve the SDGs and sets forth 10 specific steps:

  1. Learn. Study the 17 SDGs and identify others in the community who are already using them to achieve their goals.
  2. Contextualize. Map the SDGs to your community, identifying up to four that are most relevant to its needs.
  3. Define targets.Develop local targets to quantify desired impacts, using the SDGs’ standardized methods of measurement.
  4. Track grant-making.Examine existing grant-making to determine which current grants are already supporting SDGs.
  5. Educate. Spread the word that the SDGs were based on input from 9.5 million people around the world and explain how they are relevant to your community.
  6. Partner. Establish a local coalition of grant-makers and community leaders to lead local action on the SDGs.
  7. Innovate. Design initiatives to pilot and scale local solutions and learn from successful models piloted elsewhere.
  8. Co-create. Build cross-sector ownership of solutions from the outset of planning.
  9. Monitor. Track and report your progress.
  10. Support. Ensure that an enabling environment is in place, including legal frameworks and federal support.

Many of these steps apply equally to private foundations, corporate foundations and individual donors. However, community foundations can be uniquely effective in achieving the SDGs – because they have the unrivaled power to convene key stakeholders in the community.

According to David C. Perry and Terry Mazany, editors of Here for Good: Community Foundations and the Challenges of the 21st Century:

“The mission of a community foundation is the community, not restricted to the interests of an individual donor, not limited to the interests of any grant recipient, not constrained by a particular instrument of philanthropy … and not beholden to the interests of any political party or the allure of any particular initiative.”

All of these characteristics make community foundations essential partners in the achievement of the U.N. SDGs. Move the ball forward by sharing this column with the leadership of your community foundation. The clock is ticking.

Nonprofit of the Month

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