Volume XI | Issue 2 | Fall 2011
Private foundations in the 1960s waited for requests, then wrote checks. Today, foundations often collaborate with communities and with each other to support projects such as a parenting program in Oregon.

From reactive to proactive

Foundations have shifted from just being a funding source to working collaboratively

The Oregon Community Foundation recently announced its participation in a new multi-year initiative to support parenting education programs in Oregon. As part of the Oregon Parenting Education Collaborative project, 21 grants totaling about $1.3 million were awarded in May through the Ready to Learn Initiative.

The parenting education project is a stellar example of the new way foundations are operating—in partnership. The program is supported by a group of Oregon’s most prominent nonprofits: OCF, The Ford Family Foundation, the Meyer Memorial Trust, and the Collins Foundation, as well as Oregon State University.

the operational model for foundations is changing

As the field of philanthropy matures, the operational model for foundations is changing. Private foundations began to proliferate in the 1960s, and their approach was very reactive—waiting for requests and then offering monetary support. Today, it is more common for foundations to work with communities to determine their needs, and then partner with other foundations in funding programs and developing sustainable relationships with their grantees.  

Major shift

“There has been a major shift toward collaboration between foundations, as well as with communities,” says Greg Chaille, president of the Oregon Community Foundation. There are many collaborative programs in Oregon besides the parenting education project, including the Community 101 youth philanthropy program supported by OCF and the PGE Foundation and a school-based literacy program in Riddle that is funded by OCF and The Ford Family Foundation.

Chaille is an old hand at the foundation business, having started 35 years ago as a grant evaluator for a foundation in Hartford, Conn. He moved to Oregon in 1980 and served first as a program officer for OCF, and then as its president. He is retiring at the end of this year.

From his perspective, foundations today are taking a much more proactive and collaborative role. “We are helping communities develop projects that we can then fund. That’s the result of the recognition that communities often know best what they need,” he says.

He recites the C.E S. Wood quote memorialized on Portland’s Skidmore Fountain: “Good Citizens are the Riches of a City.”

“It’s the recognition that the number-one most important asset of the community is its citizens and their ability to provide leadership on the issues they face. Twenty-five years ago, there was much less recognition of that.”

Chaille has also noticed a shift in interest from primarily urban-based philanthropy to a more balanced approach that includes the needs of rural communities.

“It’s been quite a dramatic shift over the last 25 years, with lots more partnerships between public and private entities to strengthen rural America,” he says.

Bear fruit

Chaille is looking forward to watching from retirement as the seeds sown by OCF and other foundations begin to bear fruit. “The collaborative work that has occurred over the past is setting the stage for much more in the future,” he says. “We are just turning the corner on some of these issues of local leadership collaborating with funders.”

That, he says, will translate into a lot more active work in the area of jobs and the economy, access to higher education through creative methods like distance learning, and the use of technology to move away from place-based education. 

“The increased communication that has occurred in the recent past will only increase in the future,” Chaille says. “I am very optimistic.” 

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