This fall, Dr. Laurie Paarlberg, Charles Stewart Mott Chair on Community Foundations and professor of philanthropic studies, will work with the Indiana Philanthropy Alliance (IPA) and Dr. Marlene Walk, affiliate faculty member at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, on a research partnership focused on community foundations and community leadership.
Here, Dr. Paarlberg shares more information about the project and what she hopes community organizations will learn from it.
What is the background of this project? How and why did you and IPA decide to work together on it?
Paarlberg (LP): Lilly Endowment has continued its two-decade long effort to strengthen Indiana communities with its most recent initiative: Gift VII. Gift VII provides resources to Indiana community foundations to become more effective leaders in their local communities. During a conversation with our colleagues at IPA, we realized that although we have some great national examples of Community Leadership, we didn’t really have any good collection of lessons learned from these examples. I have to say that this wasn’t a brilliant thought out research plan from either of our organizations, but rather emerged from causal conversations about the needs of the field and how the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy could respond to those.
Why conduct research community foundations and community leadership?
LP: Over the last two decades, the financial resources of community foundations in Indiana (and nationally), have steadily increased. However, in Indiana, like the rest of the country, community foundations have faced a variety of pressures from changing economic structure and demographics, as well as increasing field competition. These changes have challenged the notion that the future of community foundations (and their ability to impact their communities) lies solely in growing endowments. For many community foundations, this may shift the roles that they play in their community, moving from fundraiser and grantmaker to resource mobilizer, convener, advocate, and change agent. Community leadership is seen by many as a “field priority” and a necessary “core competence.” However, many questions remain about “how” community foundations move from the language of leadership to becoming community leaders.
What are the details of the project?
LP: In collaboration with Dr. Walk from the Paul H. O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs, and possibly some students from our new community foundations course, we’ll be preparing case studies of 5-6 community foundations in small and mid-sized communities. We’ve tentatively selected community foundations in three states: New York, Michigan, and Kansas.
This will involve interviewing community foundation staff and board members and collecting information from their websites and other media sources. We are going to begin collecting data in September.
After we prepare case studies of each community foundation, we are going to look for common themes across case studies to begin to develop some lessons learned for Indiana and beyond.
What do you hope to learn from this project?
LP: We are hoping to learn more about how community foundation leaders think about community leadership—what it means to their communities—and how they successfully moved their organization towards these new leadership roles.
How will you and IPA work together to spread the results of the project to community organizations? What will community foundations be able to learn through this project?
LP: We will be sharing a brief professional report with IPA upon completion and then depending upon what we learn (and how valuable it is), we hope to distribute the results in collaboration with them in the ways that best meet their member needs.
We hope that sharing what we have learned from our case will help those community foundations seeking to enact community leadership.
What do you hope to accomplish through this project, and through the partnership with IPA?
LP: As an academic, I’m always hoping to advance theory about community foundations and how they operate. In partnership with IPA, I hope that we can contribute to IPA’s and Lilly Endowment’s goals to strengthen Indiana’s communities through stronger community foundation leadership.
Why is it important to partner with organizations generally, and IPA specifically, to learn about and discuss philanthropy in the community?
LP: We learn from each other. I have a lot of ideas that rattle around in my head but I’m often guessing what the important questions are. Practitioners in the field know what those big questions are. IPA knows the local community foundations and their needs as well as current challenges.
Why is It important to study and learn about community foundations and community leadership?
LP: Community foundations increasingly play important roles in a variety of policy fields—not only as funders, but as advocates, conveners, and designers. They increasingly play these roles because of the retrenchment in state and federal government, they have the capacity to mobilize private resources, and because they can be seen as neutral actors. They are here to stay as policy actors.