By Alexis Cooke, Chief Operations Officer, Alford Group




By Lieve Hendren, CFRE, Senior Consultant and Director of Strategic Initiatives, Alford Group




By Thandi Cai, Senior Marketing Associate, Alford Group




In the world of nonprofit fundraising campaigns, community-centric and donor-centric approaches are often considered as either-or methodologies. Community foundations defy this perceived binary: they are uniquely positioned to activate both models, and doing so strengthens their impact in communities. The benefit is that this change satisfies the need for an internal shift from reactive to proactive fundraising strategies. Alford Group shares recommendations for 4 key ideas that community foundations should consider and implement to effectively prepare for a campaign.

Alford Group has been privileged to partner with a variety of community foundations in recent years. In March 2024, in partnership with AdNet’s Annual Conference, we conducted a survey of 55 participating community foundations seeking to define the state of community foundation campaigns.

Our experience and findings validate that the most successful community foundation campaigns are a balance between community-centered and informed strategies and donor-centric fundraising practices.

#1 From crisis to community: the value of being community-informed and donor-centric

Over the past five years, 47% of the community foundations surveyed conducted a campaign guided by strategic priorities, crisis response and social justice/equity initiatives. This aligns with the central issues facing our communities since 2019 and underscores that community foundations have been leading their communities’ rapid response support for local racial equity, social justice and COVID-19 pandemic-related programs and services. Leveraging their role as a convener and community leader, community foundations were able to create new opportunities to engage and educate donors, fundholders and community members, reminding them that they can and should give to and through their community foundations for immediate impact.

Following the surge in crisis and rapid response, many community foundations sought to reaffirm their strategic direction. Remarkably, 84% of participating community foundations are in a current strategic plan, which Alford Group believes is more important than ever. Community foundations seek to impact and support human services, education and social justice initiatives as top issues facing their communities. However, survey participants reported that only 57% have conducted listening tours to inform strategic priorities and response to these issues.

Participating community foundations shared with us a shift in strategic priorities from crisis and social justice response to strategic priorities guided by and informed by the community, community grantmaking and growing the invested asset base.

Additionally, many community foundations are considering or launching a campaign right now. Of the community foundations surveyed that did not conduct a campaign over the past five years, 64% intend to do so in the coming five years.

73% of these campaigns will be defined as comprehensive or both designated and comprehensive (meaning funds raised will both be designed to support goals strategically aligned to foundation directed priorities and/or a specific community goal or initiative).

Despite how frequently community-centric and donor-centric approaches are seen as mutually exclusive, community foundations are in the perfect entity to employ both simultaneously. By doing so, they can enhance their impact while fostering an essential internal transition from reactive to proactive fundraising strategies. This dual approach not only broadens their reach but also solidifies their ability to support and sustain community initiatives more effectively.

There are four primary benefits to aligning community-informed strategic direction with donor-centric relationship building activities:

  1. Reinforced role as a trusted community partner through an aligned vision with established measurable outcomes and needs informed by the community
  2. Raised profile and bolstered reputation with trust from the foundation’s closest donors, community members and leadership volunteers
  3. Leveled up cultivation and stewardship practices that invite donors and fundholders to join the foundation’s efforts as partners and co-investors
  4. Energized staff and volunteer leaders serving as ambassadors connecting community with philanthropy, directly supporting fundraising asks and activities

#2: How to create a community-informed vision and fundraising strategy

When validating the feasibility of a potential campaign, it’s important to hear that stakeholders positively perceive the foundation’s image and reputation. Community foundation donors see themselves as partners and co-investors. Trust, transparency, high visibility and impact in the community are deeply important to them. Alford Group often hears from donors in our conversations that community listening work is one of the top reasons they get involved in a community foundation campaign. Not only that, but donor predisposition is significantly altered by their understanding of and alignment with campaign impact, purpose and defined measurable outcomes.

To re-align strategic priorities and re-affirm vision and outcomes for a community, we strongly recommend centering community voice in the planning processes and creating multi-year strategies to address community priorities. To accelerate campaign planning, community foundations should:

  • Conduct listening tours. Community foundations can embrace their role as a leader and convener that listens, understands and addresses major, current and future community needs. Community foundations interested in a campaign should consider shifting their internal narrative from “why invest in our community foundation” to “why invest in our region.”
  • Define specific community outcomes within the campaign priorities. The primary value proposition of a community foundation is the interconnectedness of the information that staff has about the community and ongoing projects and discussions, and if applicable, foundations can directly connect the campaign components and target goals with community outcomes.
  • Articulate measurable outcomes. If appropriate, define grantmaking outcomes with impact measures. The single most common recommendation Alford Group provides community foundations is to ensure their desired impact is measurable, whether that is quantifiable or qualitative. Foundations should be ready to articulate what success looks like, how to know when the need has been met (or is being met effectively), etc.

Community members often expect community foundations to be both a pillar of the community and to be nimble, modern and adaptive, and this is why strategic visioning is crucial. It’s also why campaigns are about so much more than raising money. Community-informed strategic visioning work can be both reactive and long-term, and only community foundations can do that.

Once the foundation has established a solid strategic plan, it’s important to continue building on that energy. Get loud and celebrate the priorities stated with the help of community input. To bolster their image and reputation, community foundations can:

  • Embrace their role as a driver accelerating generosity across the region, thereby creating more impact and activate clear, transparently shared reporting.
  • Educate prospective donors and fundholders on philanthropic services and impact, and on community knowledge and grantmaking.
  • Educate board, volunteer leadership, community members and local philanthropic advisors to support expansion of the foundation’s network.
  • Define campaign goals more broadly, focused on more general community driven programmatic and conceptual goals.
  • Raise their profile through regional event presence and participation.

#3: How community foundations can sustainably cultivate donors

Though community foundations are relying on traditional methods of communication to share their impact and work (including but not limited to annual or investment reports, newsletters and social media), the survey indicated there has not been enough investment in proactive fundraising practices that center people and quality contacts. This work is relationship-driven, and Alford Group can’t emphasize enough the importance of aligning cultivation efforts with fundraising best practices ahead of a campaign.

Donors may see the community foundation as an exceptional philanthropic solution provider that amplifies their philanthropic impact. One way to begin cultivating those donors is by having conversations, as a point of entry, around what kind of philanthropic solutions they need. Most nonprofits have a focused, directed conversation about giving to their nonprofit. Community foundations can offer a multi-lane impact journey to their donors and fundholders, inviting them to give not just to the foundation, but also with and through the foundation.

There is greater success when community foundations do not prescribe the giving vehicle, but instead open the doors to a donor as part of a campaign. Cultivating donors is key to achieving campaign fundraising goals, but it’s so much bigger than that. Community foundations can convene conversations around collective giving! Don’t be afraid to have these courageous conversations with donors: They are aligning their giving with their dream for the community.

Donors have higher expectations for cultivation from community foundations, and the cultivation cycle takes longer compared to the average nonprofit. Because Alford Group often sees that the top 20 prospects will fund the entire first phase of a community foundation campaign, investment in fundraising resources and bolstering staff capacity is justified ahead of launching a campaign.

#4: How to prepare internally for launching a campaign

It is not uncommon for community foundation teams to operate in silos, or for staff to not be aligned to the foundation’s values and vision. The average rating for strength of internal alignment on vision was a 70 amongst those who participated in the survey (on a scale of 1 to 100). This stands out because in Alford Group’s feasibility studies, we’re looking for an 85% rating from outside stakeholders on their perception of vision alignment. When the internal rating is low, stakeholders and community members feel this disconnect.

In addition to shoring up cultivation and stewardship activities to support relationship building efforts, we strongly advise that community foundations activate the strategies mentioned above, which will help mitigate the pressure on fundraisers and philanthropic advisors. As fundraising consultants, we consistently hear overwhelm from the development team trying to manage the start of the campaign when fundraising has not kicked into gear, and they are working so hard on their business-as-usual goals.

To level up cultivation efforts and activate the internal change management needed to effectively prepare for campaign fundraising, Alford group recommends community foundations take the following actions:

  • Audit infrastructure. Survey the systems of cultivation and invest in long-term relationship building. This includes but is not limited to moves management-related principles, staffing capacity and structure, policies and procedures, data record keeping and reporting, and stewardship practices and templates.
  • Create a relationship action plan. Qualify and organize identified board, donor, fundholder and prospective relationships assigned to appropriate staff members and create relationship action plans that detail out six to 24 months’ worth of cultivation activities informed by their values and giving priorities.
  • Embrace donors as co-investors and partners. Validate donor’s intentions, intelligence and community work by creating a menu of giving opportunities that offer several different ways to get involved in the campaign aligned to their values and giving priorities.
  • Actively welcome family philanthropy. Invite families in for philanthropic service discussions and/or invite family foundations to transition to a fund. Steward multiple relationships with families to prepare for intergenerational wealth transfer.
  • Be open to new ways of giving. Welcome direct and indirect gifts and donor-directed giving vehicles, in addition to those most desired, and consider ‘bundled’ asks of donors and fundholders. Offer non-endowed DAFs as a giving vehicle that successfully attracts new donors.
  • Engage all appropriate staff. Specifically engage community impact, programs, philanthropic advisors and others in relationship building activities and prospect strategy; provide trainings and workshops; enable cross-department information sharing and ensure all staff are hearing fundraising/development progress updates to expand visibility across the community foundation team.
  • Prepare and energize leadership to serve as ambassadors. Prioritize the value of prospective donors hearing their peers share: “Why this campaign is so meaningful for the region, and this is why I am making a transformational gift”, or “This is why I/my family hold(s) my fund here.” Activate, engage and train leadership and an intentionally curated group of volunteer ambassadors who feel comfortable discussing their philanthropy with their peers.


As a community foundation embarks on a campaign planning journey, they are often embracing a deeper internal change management process. With a community-centered and informed vision and donor-centric, relationship-centered fundraising approach, everyone is invited. Community foundations can share both the power of philanthropy through, with and to the community foundation and how the community foundation is advancing community informed, community centered impact.