Working in a community foundation can put you at the nexus of community issues and happenings but it can also be a lonely position too. Most community foundations work in their own geographic area and whether you operate in the wild wind-swept coast of Mendocino, the plains of Indiana, or the bustle of New York you may feel isolated from what is happening in the field.
Recently, CF Insights and FSG had the privilege of working with 31 community foundations across the country to develop a field-wide sense of trends in the fastest growing area of giving and grantmaking – Donor-Advised Funds (DAFs). We brought to bear information on critical questions about DAFs which have hitherto continued to go unanswered. Questions such as:
- How should community foundations define the strategic value of DAFs?
- To what extent are DAFs creating strategic value at community foundations today?
- What policies and practices will best lead community foundations to realize strategic value from DAFs both now and in the future?
Community foundations are responding in a variety of ways:
- Telling us they value the information and the data. “FSG strikes again. LOVED this session because it brought new data to bear, challenging a huge and mistaken assumption in our field” said one attendee at the Council on Foundations presentation in New Orleans. We’ve received good feedback on the value of the information on the session and during interactions at the Fall Conference, at recent regional presentations such as the one in Washington, and from a range of follow-up conversations.
- Holding discussions within community foundations – at multiple levels. Examples include discussions with executive staff about the gap between aspirations and the reality of policy and practice, discussions with boards about DAF aspirations and the impact of DAFs on communities. Several foundations have noted that this research is important to share with Boards.
- Absorbing the implications and interpreting the information. Generally findings are not seen as shocking but rather “jive” with what people see going on. The data is affirming and helps people get beyond anecdotes. The most provocative specific findings are about the role of leadership and the data about planned giving. Identifying “the gap” between aspirations and practice – although not shocking – seems to be provoking a lot of internal conversations and some foundations (which have not participated in the study) are interested in collecting data for their own foundation.
Community foundations are also articulating new questions and asking for more information:
- What do donors think?
- What is the social value and impact of DAFs on communities?
- How do community foundation leadership activities and Donor-Advised Funds interact?
- What about endowed funds – are they fundamentally different?
Over the next few months CF Insights and FSG will continue to share the report, listen to the field and hold discussions with community foundations to understand their needs and the possibilities for further exploration and follow-up to this field-building study. We encourage you to share with us your reactions and questions.