State Associations Collaborating with Community Foundations

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The October 2016 Network Call focused on the many ways in which state associations collaborate with community foundations in their states to achieve shared goals. The recording offers many ideas for some state associations thinking about different ways to collaborate with community foundations, whether through capacity building, group membership, or public policy initiatives. 


GuideStar defines community foundations as “cornerstones of local giving." The mission of community foundations is to improve the quality of life for those in the communities they serve. Community foundations are tax-exempt, nonprofit, publicly supported philanthropic organizations. The Internal Revenue Services (IRS) recognizes community foundations as public charities in part because they receive support from the general public – through endowment funds and individual, family, or business donations. 

According to Council on Foundations, there are over 700 community foundations in the United States. The number of community foundations varies in each state. To locate the community foundations in your state, use the Council on Foundations’ community foundation locator.


  • Capacity Building - Through grants or contracts, many state associations partner with community foundations to offer complementary and/or specialized trainings to build capacity throughout the nonprofit community.
  • Membership - Create a unique group membership for community foundations and their grantees. (Source: Michigan Nonprofit Association)
    • Getting started:
      • Identify the community foundations in your state using the community foundation locator.
      • Conduct an informal survey of the community foundations in your state/region to create tailored group membership to meet the needs of the community foundations and their grantees.
      • Create “the pitch” for group membership and propose it in a letter, email, or phone call to the community foundations. (Source: Michigan Nonprofit Association)
      • Follow up and engage: What can you learn from your new community foundation members? How might their membership alter or enhance your suite of member benefits, trainings, and policy initiatives?
  • Policy - Review your state association's policy initiatives. Is there a policy role the community foundations can play in your state association's public policy initiatives? (See how Hawai`i Alliance of Nonprofit Organizations collaborated with a community foundation to restore the charitable tax deduction incentive in Hawai`i in 2013.)
  • Giving Days - View SCANPO's webinar program for Giving Day training - a partnership between the state association and two community foundations. (Source: South Carolina Association of Nonprofit Organizations)


  • If possible, when conducting capacity building collaborations, arrange for a contractual agreement vs. a grant. A community foundation grant is great; however, sometimes there are delays from the time an RFP is submitted and the time you deliver the service. In that time, needs, curricula, and cost can change and some funders are not as understanding of the need for a fluid process leading up to delivering the training/workshop.
  • Start slow and build trust one community foundation at a time before jumping into a long-term training collaboration or group membership. Leverage the community foundation network. Community foundations have close relationships with one another and trust one another. Once you've established a trusted relationship with one community foundation, it's easier to establish subsequent relationships with others.
  • Learn the source of the community foundation's money. There are lots of ways community foundations raise money each year. The telltale indicator is whether a community foundation has an endowment or whether it fundraises each year. Community foundations that fundraise each year might have less money to work with, but have been shown to behave more like nonprofits and thus easier to collaborate with.
  • When proposing group membership, offer a two-year membership so that new members have ample time to get to know your state association and explore member benefits. The goal is to retain collaborative members.
  • When pitching membership to a community foundation, offer a two-year "membership match." The community foundation agrees to pay the first year of membership and the state association agrees to pay the second year of membership. 

What tips for successful collaboration with community foundations would you add to this list?

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