The power of community, here and around the world

Should community foundations have a global reach? In the right circumstances, the answer is an emphatic yes.

By Paul S. Grogan, President and CEO

The Boston Foundation is by definition a community foundation, with a focus on Greater Boston. Yet more and more often, we find ourselves building our global reach. This week, the Foundation will welcome more than 150 people to Boston for the 2018 Innovations in International Philanthropy Symposium, hosted by New England International Donors, an independent initiative of the Boston Foundation and The Philanthropic Initiative, and TPI’s Center for Global Philanthropy.

COF Global Giving Report cover
The State of Global Giving notes the Boston Foundation's international giving, particularly to the Caribbean region
Global Giving report

Meanwhile, a report released last month by the Council on Foundations and Foundation Center found the Boston Foundation has partnered with donors to be one of the top five community foundations in the nation when it comes to international giving. From 2011 to 2015, the Foundation and donors contributed more than $30 million to organizations working internationally.

But why does a community foundation, with a focus on Greater Boston, engage at all in global philanthropy? In short, it is because community is not synonymous with local

First, our international giving reflects the breadth of desires of donors to support important causes here and abroad. We remain in heart and soul a community foundation, however, and $30 million makes up about 7% of our grant making over those years. While a relatively small percentage, it is a powerful amount that reflects the desire of individual, family and company donors with Boston roots to connect with issues of global importance.

Second, a closer look at the report – and at our own grant making – highlights strong connections between the places where our donors are giving globally and communities in Boston. A primary example is Haiti. It is no accident that the Boston Foundation was fifth of ALL foundations – and first among community foundations – in the number of grants made to organizations in the Caribbean. 

The earthquake that devastated Haiti in 2010 resonated in a very human way in Boston. With our sizable Haitian population, and a group of philanthropists – led by Karen and Jim Ansara – who felt strong connections to the country, there was a natural desire for donors in Greater Boston to help in Haiti. The result – the Haiti Fund at the Boston Foundation and now the Haiti Development Institute housed here – has raised and granted out millions of dollars to Haitian-led, Haitian-oriented organizations to not just provide help, but to build capacity and strengthen communities on the island. The work has built capacity here, as well. The Fund, and now the Institute, are led by Haitians and Haitian-Americans here in Boston, increasing the bond between here and there.

The Haiti efforts informed subsequent funds, set up after the magnitude 9.0 quake and tsunami that devastated Japan in 2011, and again after earthquakes devastated Nepal in 2015. Those lessons from our experience in Haiti also informed our work domestically as we continue to raise and distribute money through the Massachusetts United for Puerto Rico fund. There, too, decisions are made by an Advisory Board driven by Puerto Ricans who know the island and ensure that we direct funds to Puerto Rican-led and staffed organizations, and those helping Puerto Ricans here. (Mass. United funds are not counted in the global giving report, as Puerto Ricans are American citizens, and Hurricane Maria falls outside the time frame of the study.)

Community foundations sit at a unique nexus, connecting donors to a constellation of organizations that make a difference, and helping individuals, families, companies and others create powerful strategic plans for their giving. The Boston Foundation offers a number of powerful resources to help those with global philanthropic goals, including TPI’s Center for Global Philanthropy, and New England International Donors. Led by Maggi Alexander and Ina Breuer, respectively, the Center and NEID give donors both inside and outside the Boston Foundation access to resources, expertise and networks to help them make strategic, savvy global giving a part of their overall philanthropic plan – including the conference this week.

Boston is a world-class city. We are globally connected. And we are problem solvers. Our people come from around the world, and they recognize the importance and impact of the global issues we face. The Boston Foundation is honored to help connect them in myriad ways, to bring people and resources together to address the biggest issues we face as a city – and a planet.

Because community is not simply a synonym for local.