Stories of Leadership: Learning from Community Foundations That Make Higher Education a Regional Priority (2017)

Through our Community Philanthropy for Student Success Initiative (CPI), College Futures Foundation is partnering with California community foundations to improve the economic future of their communities by advancing educational opportunity and attainment. Our work originally focused on growing the number of strategic, needs-based scholarships and related student services. Together, we are discovering that community foundations can expand their impact as leaders in region-wide educational movements. While their individual leadership roles vary based on their local contexts and histories—across the cohort we see examples of community foundations convening, facilitating, researching, advocating, fundraising, and more—all share a common motivation and goal. They are working to improve college graduation outcomes on a larger scale by helping strengthen and align the strategies and resources of educational institutions, student service providers, philanthropy, government, and employers.

In an effort to understand more about how leadership for community foundations can manifest, we engaged strategic learning firm Informing Change to scan the activities of community foundations doing similar work across the country. The Informing Change team has developed Stories of Leadership—a set of short narratives describing the journeys, challenges, and achievements of four organizations demonstrating regional leadership in postsecondary educational success:

The Boston Foundation funded a longitudinal study on student outcomes that galvanized collective action by the foundation, local government, nonprofit partners, and educational institutions, and informed a shift in focus from college access to college completion.

Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo recognized declining outcomes and set a goal to improve education achievement for students in low-income households, championing solutions, raising funds, and brokering relationships expressly to achieve this aim.

Community Foundation for the National Capital Region partnered with public agencies to lead collective impact work in education and workforce development, incubating a model for systems change that centers on the needs of local youth in a highly educated, highly competitive labor market.

Yakima Valley Community Foundation helped establish a strong coalition of diverse stakeholders in secondary and postsecondary education to advocate for key interventions designed to increase the rate of high school and college degree completion.

Across these four examples of community leadership, these community foundations cultivated partnerships and used data to understand community needs and raise awareness. The stories provide valuable ideas and affirmation for the seven grantee partners currently engaged in our CPI initiative. In a special guest blog post, chief executives from two of these CPI community foundations share their perspectives and experiences with regional leadership in light of these examples.


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