100 Years of Community Foundations

Author National Philanthropic Trust

January 2, 2014

This year marks the centennial anniversary of the first-ever community foundation. Frederick Goff founded the Cleveland Foundation on January 2, 1914 as a “community savings account.” Its aim was to pool charitable resources from the city’s philanthropists “for the mental, moral and physical improvements of the inhabitants of Cleveland.”

Shortly thereafter, foundations began springing up around the country to better serve local communities: the Chicago Community Trust (1915), The Boston Foundation (1915), and The Minneapolis Foundation (1915). Today, there are more than 700 community foundations across the U.S., from which millions of donors give an estimated $4.2 billion via a number of philanthropic vehicles. In our Donor-Advised Fund Report, Community Foundations are one of only three types of donor-advised fund sponsors we identify. Giving from donor-advised funds at community foundations totaled $2.78 billion in 2012.

The creation of the community foundation model allowed people of more modest means to leverage the collective desire to improve society. You no longer had to be a Rockefeller or Carnegie to participate in philanthropy! It also allowed people like Frederick Goff and his wife to leave their wealth to the foundation as a way of establishing a charitable legacy. These attributes of community foundations remain today and have been emulated by other types of public charities.

In the past century, new technology and communications may have shifted the way we define our community, but community foundations remain one of the preeminent sources for identifying and serving local needs.

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