Crossposted from the Council on Philanthropy's blog.
What does a foundation do when pollution poses an immediate health threat to the community – and the nonprofits there to help aren’t connected to each other?
Consider what's happened in the Greater Buffalo area, a passageway for 20 percent of the world’s fresh water supply - and home to the first U.S. Superfund site. Due to the region’s industrial heritage, the area continues to fight contamination and a lack of green space, contributing to elevated rates of asthma, obesity and heart disease.
The Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo saw an opportunity to make a difference. Already 150 nonprofits were working on environmental justice issues – but they weren’t working together, and weren’t making far-reaching progress.
So the foundation decided to launch an information hub, funded through the Knight Community Information Challenge, where people and groups can share information for action. So far, the investment is paying off.
We recently visited the community foundation, and two others, to see how their investments in news and information projects were transforming their communities and their foundations. The result is a new report we will be releasing over the next three days at informationneeds.org, called Opportunities for Leadership: Meeting Community Information Needs. The first installment is available here and the full report here.
All three, Buffalo, plus the Silicon Valley Community Foundation and the Community Foundation of New Jersey, are seeing tangible benefits. They’ve gained new insights into their communities, increased their own visibility, and built stronger networks.
More importantly, the projects have allowed them to impact issues they care about.
In Buffalo’s case, nonprofits large and small are sharing information with each other’s audiences, approaching policy issues collaboratively, organizing community events and aligning their strategies.
In just one example, when the city of Buffalo sought perspectives for its new zoning codes, it went to the foundation and the information hub’s community, first, giving their stakeholders a say in what became known as the “Green Code.”
As CEO Clotilde Dedecker says: “Community foundations used to be about connecting donors to needs, but today with information technology, you can broaden that audience and increase the scope and scale of impact. Community change work has taken us from an arms-length experience of writing a check to a hands-on engagement for shaping the future of our communities in partnership with our communities.”
That’s a significant shift – and a transformational opportunity for our field.
As the three foundations, profiled demonstrate, community foundations are uniquely positioned to use information for community change. Their inherent assets, their commitment to local issues, their relationships with diverse stakeholders, and their independent voice, make their role as community leaders a natural fit for addressing community information needs.
This week, read the series, “Opportunities for Foundation Leadership: Meeting Community Information Needs,” at www.informationneeds.org.
To learn more about how community foundations can make an impact by investing in news and information, attend the session on Journalism and Media Grantmaking at the Council on Foundations’ Community Foundation Conference, at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday Sept. 21 in the Yerba Buena Ballroom.