In 2011 the Board and staff realized it was time to engage the Foundation more directly in the communities that we serve.
Community foundations across the country were commissioning research, convening decision-makers, engaging in advocacy, and using their networks to marshal resources that are strengthening their communities. Through interviews by an outside independent consultant with the Board, staff, and community members, we knew that the Foundation was well positioned today to expand our community engagement work and leadership roles in the diverse communities we serve.
In the Fall of 2012 the Board of the Community Foundation approved a process by which resident engagement becomes a product of our community leadership activities. Increasingly we have realized that large-scale resident engagement is critical to rebuilding trust between people and public institutions and to strengthening connections among residents of different backgrounds, ethnicities and ideologies.
In short, the Community Foundation views resident engagement as the critical component of our community leadership approach—one that deepens and expands on the initial vision outlined in the Framework for Community Leadership by a Community Foundation created in 2008 by the National Task Force on Community Leadership, and supported by CFLeads and Aspen Institute Community Strategies Group with backing from the Council On Foundations. This work not only opens up new opportunities for us, it will also serve to develop and expand the scope and power of our community leadership role.
As a result, the Board agreed to not only expand its membership by drawing upon the diversity of stakeholders (donors, community leaders, business leaders, government leaders and non-profit leaders) residing in our region. Additionally, the Foundation instituted early on, a listening campaign that on a regular basis, goes to those communities we serve to hear what their hopes, aspirations, concerns and needs are.
Both of these aspects of our work have provided the Foundation real clarity as to what we must do to become authentically engaged with the communities that we serve:
Community Foundation GOALS
- We have developed a deep and rich history in building stronger communities; our historical roots are steeped in our geographic region and in its purpose and mission.
- We have a broad community betterment mission and, because of our physical permanence, we take the long view and are here for the duration.
- We are keepers of a community endowment and, unlike private foundations, are “owned” by the community.
- We have significant financial resources and access to capital.
- We make contributions other than money—connections, convening spaces, technical assistance, relationship brokering, networks, research and evaluation, personal ties, influence, social capital—that have proven to strengthen community engagement.
- We are a boundary-spanning organization that facilitates collaboration among diverse groups of people and institutions in our communities.
- We are independent—not part of government or the private for-profit sector—so we transcend political interests or need for financial profits.
- We have proven that we can sustain community engagement efforts beyond one-shot programs or initiatives to become a regular, embedded aspect of daily public life of Western Nevada.
- We hope to use community engagement to attract and engage new donors and build the capacity of everyone to be a philanthropist—beyond just giving money.
- We have visited with other community foundations in the U.S. using community engagement approaches—such as advocacy, monitoring the public sector, supporting new avenues for public participation in new democracies, and promoting a culture of giving within communities—and studied their success.
- We realize that community engagement isn’t just what occurs outside our doors; it’s an ethos that can and should thread through all the Foundation’s internal operations, policies and ways of working. Key to this process is shifting the question from “what did we accomplish?” to “how do we work with others in the community as part of that community to strengthen it?” In short, we believe that to be perceived as authentic civic actors within our communities, we need to “walk the talk” of engagement.
WE WILL DELIVER ON THESE GOALS
We are ready to take the necessary next steps, and to do so we will:
- Bring together the diversity of stakeholders who make up our communities. The act of bringing people together begins the process of building the relationships across socio-economic, racial, cultural, professional, intellectual, and social strata that over the past 50 years has been cordoned off from each other. The Foundation is one of the few community institutions in our region that has proven to be able to bridge gaps between all stakeholders in their geographical areas. As we do not operate programs, we are not perceived as a competitor or biased interloper. We believe that we authentically engage with our communities.
- Change the perception that a community foundation is only a place to get money. This perception is not surprising given the emphasis placed on the assets of foundations. CFWN has been and is focused on community engagement where money is seen as only one of a number of assets that we have. We see the Foundation as a place that uses a variety of resources in the service of the community that together can sustain and embed change in our communities. These resources include intellectual, political, reputational, cultural and financial capital.
- Develop the necessary understandings and skills to work with our communities. We are committed to engaging with our communities to sit with and listen to residents and their partners to better understand how the community sees its challenges and opportunities.
These elements, which follow Building Blocks B, C, & D of the Framework for Community Leadership by a Community Foundation, are the basis upon which CFWN will achieve its goal of engaging the community in addressing, identifying solutions and successfully implementing these solutions to long-term and persistent problems that have plagued our many diverse communities.
From the start, the Board and staff have studied other community foundations and incorporated the best practices and activities that had the best outcomes for residents. As with many other community foundations the goals of asset development and self-sufficiency were a primary focus for the Foundation. Over the past decade Foundation goals also required work with residents on various projects, many of which were donor initiated.
The community work engaged large numbers of residents, as well as leaders who were involved with community associations, non-profit organizations, the public sector, and local business. “Community Conversations” launched in 2003 focuses on issue areas such as Education, Human Services, Natural Resources, and the Arts in order to build new relationships and knowledge on community needs. As the Foundation moved out into the community to multiply and expand direct contact through public participation and engagement, these types of deep relationships and knowledge continue to support the Foundation’s position as an engaging organization, a convener and a leader.
The Foundation also established the “Funders Network” with other funders in the region to discuss community needs and to share individual giving programs and priorities. The Foundation launched a number of initiatives in coordination with these funders and partners.
Early examples include a Bullying Project initially focused on gay/lesbian youth but quickly expanded to focus on the bullying/intimidating behaviors while at school and the importance of treating others civilly at all times. This project ended up becoming much more substantial than initially envisioned as it was adopted by many of the regional school districts because of the successes it achieved in the original schools where it was implemented. Another initiative was a partnership with the State of Nevada for a statewide transfer of wealth study and development of the ability to support rural Nevada communities through affiliate funds.
Additionally, the Foundation led a local coordinated effort with a dozen Reno area charities to pursue a SIF (Social Innovation Fund) grant that included developing a comprehensive “evidence based” program to address poverty in Northern Nevada. Through that experience the Foundation demonstrated its ability to conduct a rapid but thorough engagement process with a select team to produce a comprehensive program model.
In 2011 the Board and staff launched the meaningful and deliberate shift in focus to increase our community engagement work. This has been the most significant period of change for the Board and staff, evolving into different roles that will engage us more deeply in meaningful community work and expand our focus on “building” Foundation assets to engage with our communities. Indeed, there is an expectation on the part of some people that the Foundation is ready and should assume this role. The Foundation recognizes that the initiative process will serve as an important vehicle that can move the Foundation into the public eye and empower the community as an important community resource. For the Foundation to successfully become that key resource, it is essential for the Foundation to listen to and become knowledgeable of community needs from the residents’ vantage point.
The Board enthusiastically embraces this new vision for the Foundation. This is the fertile climate in which the Foundation is working to engage the community in initiatives. These are the reasons why we have chosen the goal of resident engagement and the reasons why we will be able to achieve and deliver on this goal.
Our current community – wide initiative,embarked upon in late 2013, is You’N-I (Youth Network Initiative) addresses the challenges facing runaway, homeless and youth who are aging-out-of-foster care in Washoe County. Learn more about the projects and progress of YOU’N-I.
The Community Foundation has received funding from a number of local individuals and foundations to expand our relationships, garner the resources, and develop the understanding and skills to successfully build upon the culture, values and good will the Foundation has built. As a relatively new community foundation, we have a strong and well-respected fiscal infrastructure within our region. At the same time we have become Western Nevada’s philanthropic organization. To grow the Foundation’s ability fully address our goals and become an organization that leads and achieves transformational change in the region our donors invest in the Foundation’s work in the community.
We invite the full involvement and support of all community members to together build a successful initiative.