Where is the next emerging opportunity for philanthropy to build social capital?

January 9, 2017

The role of the mid-sized and smaller community foundation is changing. More and more conversations with my community foundation peers turn to the topic of: how can we be proactive in driving economic and community development in our respective communities.

Historically these conversations were reserved for larger foundations that had considerable assets and staff to initiate and sustain such efforts. However, things are changing. Community foundations, big and small, are taking on the challenge of being agents for change.  Because community foundations are comprised of hundreds of fund holders with varying philanthropic interests and a diverse leadership board, we are an excellent vehicle to build social capital.

In early 2014 the Richland County Foundation invited 50 community leaders from the private, public and non-profit sectors and asked them to respond to a single question, “If the Foundation was able to make a significant investment of resources in our community, where should it be?” At the end of the half-day work session the group’s recommendation was to make our non-profits more self-sufficient and economic development.

Three years hence, we are kicking off our third Osborne Meese Academy, a capacity building program for the leadership of non-profit organizations. The Academy consists of monthly, half-day sessions with subject matter experts, designed to enhance an executive’s skill set in each area.

We are also beginning the third year of our five-year $1.1 million investment in economic development initiatives. The investment focuses on workforce development, business retention and expansion, entrepreneur alliance and a scale-up fund for existing business with the potential for double-digit revenue growth.

So where is the next emerging opportunity for philanthropy to build social capital?

One of the great things about community foundation work is the willingness in which we share ideas. I have been impressed with the work of the Hamilton and Springfield Community Foundations in resurrecting their central business districts. These two cities had struggling downtowns like many across Ohio. They recognized we are in an age when people want to spend time in vibrant downtowns more than ever before.

As a result community, private and corporate foundations formed an alliance with the chamber of commerce, public officials, and private business to target investments in existing properties with the goal of revitalizing their urban centers. Their efforts have been incredible and at an amazing pace.

With so much positive energy coming from Mansfield’s central business core and surrounding area, could this be philanthropy’s opportunity in making it a destination through social impact investing?

President Brady Groves


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