America has led the world in developing a national culture of civic participation, but one of the most enduring institutions that we created has been the community foundation. Today, President Obama is proud to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the community foundation with a convening here at the White House, where we welcomed more than 100 leaders from this field. Together, we commemorated a century of achievement by community foundations and looked forward to the possibilities that lie ahead.
In collaboration with the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, we hosted Community Foundations: Vital Leadership for America’s Future, a session to celebrate the extraordinary contributions that these institutions have made to our country. The first community foundation was created in 1914 when Frederick Goff created The Cleveland Foundation to facilitate charitable giving by residents to organizations in the city and surrounding area.
Since that time, the community foundation has flourished as an institution. Today, there are more than 700 in the U.S. convening cross-sector stakeholders on issues of community importance and driving billions in contributions to a wide range of important nonprofit causes. They are involved in tackling systemic challenges like long-term unemployment, responding to crises like natural disasters, and creating strong, collaborative relationships between local law enforcement and the communities they protect. In these examples and many others, community foundations typically are among the first to step forward when called on to serve, and the last to leave a situation until the job is completed.
Foundations support a wide range of communities, spanning large urban centers and small rural towns. Their grant-making focuses on a specific geographic area, whether outlying cities, counties, states, regions, or tribal nations. Their selfless giving across boundaries of ethnicity, faith, and political background exemplifies the vibrant pluralism of American society, strengthening our bonds of community and making our collective whole much greater than the sum of our individual parts.
The deep expertise and local knowledge gives community foundations a critical role to play in this process. The core values that they bring – like creativity, compassion, perseverance and grit – make them essential to achieving long-term success. On a day when the world is exploring new models of civic engagement such as #GivingTuesday, it is an appropriate moment to step back and celebrate the centennial accomplishments of this uniquely American innovation.
For this reason, President Obama is proud to partner with philanthropy and to recognize the contributions of community foundations to our country.
Jonathan Greenblatt is a Special Assistant to the President and the Director of the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation.