In North Carolina, a Community Foundation Affiliate Network

 Raleigh, NC. photo:  Joseph Sohm/shutterstock

Raleigh, NC. photo:  Joseph Sohm/shutterstock

Community foundations are a huge part of North Carolina’s philanthropy scene, and there are dozens of them in this state with a population of just over 10 million people. One of the largest of these foundations in terms of giving is the North Carolina Community Foundation (NCCF), based in Raleigh. This funder has been giving out over $8 million per year to local causes.

But what’s so interesting about North Carolina’s community foundations is how interconnected they are. NCCF, for example, funds nonprofits in 67 counties in its statewide affiliate network. These affiliates are unincorporated charitable entities with local advisory boards, and this arrangement works well to balance an on-the-ground local focus with the expertise and administration of a large community foundation.

An example of one such affiliate is the Rockingham County Community Foundation, which allows county residents to start a new endowment with just $10,000. Each affiliate foundation has its own guidelines, deadlines and priorities. This one typically welcomes grant applications for the Rockingham County Unrestricted Endowment in June and July and awards grants between $500 and $1,000. However, RCCF granted over $97,000 in funds earlier this year to six nonprofits and municipalities to improve the economic growth and beautification of the county. These funds were entrusted to the RCCF by Duke Energy and part of the Dan River Basin program.

While the money from these affiliates isn’t necessarily huge, it is very targeted and in tune with local needs in a way that a statewide community foundation may not be able to achieve. That's because North Carolina’s affiliate network of community foundations allows county-specific funders to utilize a common online grant application and secure a professional web presence to get out the word about funding opportunities.

Meanwhile, in other parts of the country, such as New Mexico, there has been talk of merging all of the state’s community foundations into one. This has created concern about whether a single foundation can maintain greater power without losing touch with local communities. As it turns out, community funders in New Mexico won’t be merging after all, or at least anytime soon. This stall was largely solidified by the Santa Fe Community Foundation’s concerns with inadequate representation on a merged community foundation board. However, the Taos Community Foundation and the Albuquerque Community Foundation dropped out even before that.

So perhaps affiliate foundations, like the North Carolina example, are a feasible solution to helping community foundation money go further and increasing these funders' overall efficiency. Unlike a pure merger with one single board, an affiliate model allows small local funders to maintain their own boards and set their own rules.

This is especially important in states with large rural populations to ensure that rural philanthropy maintains its voice and influence. Similar regional affiliate models exist in Sacramento, San Diego, IowaArkansas and other regions, leading us to believe that this is a more effective route compared to a mega-merger that would step on toes and spark internal conflicts that take the focus away from helping local nonprofits.