Guest opinion: What is a ‘community foundation’?

2014 marked 100 years since the first community foundation was created in Cleveland, Ohio, and this week, the Olympic View Community Foundation joins more than 700 community foundations across America in recognition of Community Foundation Week.

  • Wednesday, November 12, 2014 12:51pm
  • Opinion

2014 marked 100 years since the first community foundation was created in Cleveland, Ohio, and this week, the Olympic View Community Foundation joins more than 700 community foundations across America in recognition of Community Foundation Week.

For 25 years, the focus of this effort has been to raise awareness about the vital role community foundations play in calling for and supporting local collaboration between the nonprofit sector, the civic sector and the community at large.

In 22 months on the job, when asked about the Olympic View Community Foundation, typically the first question is “What is a community foundation”?

Community foundations are independent, public charities that shepherd philanthropic gifts from individual donors and institutions. In turn, those resources are used to help local nonprofits which are at the heart of every strong, vibrant community. The community foundation field is one of the fastest growing philanthropic sectors in the United States today.

I would like to tell you about your local community foundation. Incorporated in the year 2000, the Olympic View Community Foundation (formerly the Sequim Community Foundation), has administered and granted more than $336,000 in funds received from the Sound Community Bank’s co-branded credit card called The Platinum Community “Nonprofit MasterCard.” (See article in the Sequim Gazette, “Sound Community Bank donates to Community Foundation, page A8, Nov. 5, 2014 edition.)

In 14 years, OVCF has funded more than 40 nonprofit organizations or community projects. For instance, more than $60,000 has been granted to youth and education through scholarships and programs needing support at each of our five schools within the Sequim School District.

Within the first six months after opening our office in January 2013, we were overwhelmed by the number of nonprofits needing help and seeking support. This need drove our work in a direction that was unanticipated but the decision to invest in the infrastructure and capacity of our own nonprofits has since proved to be the right decision. Building best practices and strong organizational infrastructure often eludes nonprofit organizations. Generally these groups don’t have the means to access professional growth and training.

These challenges are stumbling blocks that hold back an organization’s progress and growth.

OVCF recently sponsored a Washington State Charities Division Workshop for local nonprofits along with Clallam County United Way and the Jefferson County Community Foundation/United Good Neighbors. This workshop was attended by more than 80 nonprofit staff and volunteers from both counties.

In May of this year we convened, along with several other local nonprofit leaders, a conference held out at Lake Crescent and attended by 75 folks from around Clallam County. This biennial conference is underwritten by The Seattle Foundation/Benjamin N. Phillips Fund and the Medina Foundation of Seattle.

Boost from the Phillips Fund

We also were fortunate to receive a two-year capacity building grant from The Seattle Foundation/Phillips Fund, which allowed my board to fund, in part, my position as executive director. This grant is nearing its end but the Phillips Fund continues to be a force for philanthropy here in Clallam County. (See article in the Sequim Gazette, “Memorial grants fund nonprofits,” interview with Claire Bishop, fund director, page A6, Oct. 29, 2014 edition.)

And earlier this year OVCF was awarded $25,000 from the Statewide Capacity Collaborative administered by Social Venture Partners in Seattle. This grant is enabling us to build OVCF’s capacity and, at the same time, bring along other local nonprofits by delivering professional curriculum geared to a variety of topics critical to nonprofit management and development. We are feverishly working this month and next to solidify our curriculum and begin getting it out there in early 2015.

We are lucky to have a community foundation in our own backyard. Although OVCF assets have come primarily from one major funding source, Sound Community Bank, we have been no less diligent in our mission.

Olympic View Community Foundation earned its certification from the National Council on Foundations. The National Standards for U.S. Community Foundations™ is an accreditation program for community foundations and signifies that a community foundation rigorously maintains its operations, investments and programs at a professional level above and beyond what the law requires.

We know our success ultimately hinges on the generosity of donors who wish to express their philanthropic dream for our community through a major gift or bequest. Until then we are encouraged by our small successes. These accomplishments make it possible for us to shoulder the huge responsibility and amazing opportunity to earn the respect and support of you, our community.


Sue Ellen Riesau is the executive director of Olympic View Community Foundation and former publisher and 23-year employee of the Sequim Gazette. She can be reached at 360-797-1338 or


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