What is a Community Foundation?

Community foundations are charitable funds established and managed by local people to meet the needs of their communities. They bring together donors from all walks of life to support local priority needs, involving people in the development of their community. Community foundations build permanent financial assets and are catalysts for place-based change, from rural areas to regional towns and major cities.

Community foundations offer a sustainable model for philanthropy. They raise money – some of which is invested to build a permanent endowment, and they make grants to local causes and charities. Local volunteers lead the foundations’ community engagement, stewardship of funds, and management of operations.

The community foundation model adapts to local needs and circumstances. While no two foundations are exactly the same, they share a number of key characteristics:

  • They are incorporated organisations
  • They are grant making, public charities
  • They operate for the benefit of specific communities, usually defined by geographic location
  • They are governed by a board of directors who are connected to the community and appointed in a transparent process
  • They raise money and make grants for a wide range of community needs, causes, and organisations
  • They identify local challenges and engage the community in finding solutions
  • They attract funds from many donors with diverse interests
  • They manage investments to grow a charitable fund for long term community benefit
  • They are independent of political parties, religious institutions, corporations, high net worth individuals or families
Member Update / May 9th 2023
STOKED: a surf therapy program in the time of COVID
The STOKED Surfing Program continues to run in 2023, teaching young people surfing as a coping strategy for mental health, connecting them to community, and delivering education on mental health and wellbeing.
The community philanthropy ecosystem
Community foundations offer a structure that makes it easy for donors, advisers, communities, and charities to get involved with grassroots giving.
I am a Professional Advisor
Accountants, financial planners, lawyers: all advise clients on how to build a lasting legacy. For clients who want to keep that legacy close to home, community foundations offer an ideal model.
I am a Charity
As grant-makers, community foundations work closely with charities and community groups in their area, partnering to strengthen impact for important causes.
I am a Donor
As a donor, you can support the causes and charities that matter to you in the place you call home, today and into the future, by giving to your local community foundation.
I am a Community Foundation
It’s in the name. Communities are at the heart of community foundations. Could your community be next to start one?
Want to join the network?

Whether as a member, affiliate, partner or supporter, there are plenty of ways to get involved with Community Foundations Australia. The easiest way is to connect for a conversation.

Community foundations have been around for over a century.
The Cleveland Foundation, the world’s first community foundation, is established in Cleveland, Ohio, USA "as an alternative to private foundations so that people of modest means could respond collectively to the needs of their neighbors".
The Lord Mayor’s Fund for Metropolitan Hospital and Charities, founded by Melbourne Lord Mayor Sir John Swanson in 1923, has evolved into today's Lord Mayor's Charitable Foundation - Australia's oldest and largest community foundation.
Establishment of Geelong and District Community Chest, a precursor to the Give Where You Live Foundation that serves Geelong and the G21 region.
Melbourne Community Foundation established. Now known as Australian Communities Foundation (ACF), this is a community foundation with a difference: ACF is nurturing a community of givers with broad interests, supporting causes, charities and communities throughout Australia and some abroad.
Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal (FRRR) established. FRRR becomes a catalyst for the growth of community foundations in rural and regional Australia, providing seed funding, advice, and support for feasibility studies.
23 community foundations are established during this decade, the most active period to date of community foundation sector growth in Australia. Only two of these new foundations are in capital cities. Twenty year later, four of them have ceased operating, while the majority continue to grow and serve their communities.
A further fifteen community foundations are newly created. All but one continue to operate to this day.
Two new community foundations open their doors - Foundation SA and the East Gippsland Community Foundation - bringing to an end a five-year period when sector growth temporarily stalled.
What Our Members Say ...
"Thank you for the opportunity to speak at the workshop. Taking part has given me such a great insight into the wider development of community foundations, and a big jump in energy for things up here!"
"I really appreciate the Community Foundations Australia meet-ups, and the focus on supporting ourselves and others. Thank you for creating a reason to pause and take stock."
"I appreciate Community Foundations Australia’s readiness to help, whenever we need assistance."
"Thank you for the help you have provided… being welcomed back into the community foundation fold has been very pleasing and has provided more connections for us. We look forward to our continued relationship."
"Thanks, team. Some fabulous articles in the newsletter. Couldn’t have been more spot on in terms of timing for us."
"The introductions Community Foundations Australia have made have been invaluable, so too have been the opportunities to share knowledge on everything from software to organisational policies."
"The member catch-up sent my mind spinning about CRM opportunities. It’s very inspiring to hear what others are doing, there’s a lot to be learned!"