What is the Community Foundation Opportunity Network?

Overview

A national leadership and action network of community foundations committed to narrowing the youth opportunity gap was created in early 2016.  The Community Foundation Opportunity Network (CFON) includes 47 leading foundations from every region in the US. Participating foundations serve communities with a spectrum of geographic, demographic, racial, and socioeconomic diversity. We welcome additional community foundations and other change-oriented funders.  Four national foundation partners have also joined/supported the network:  Annie E. Casey Foundation, Ford Foundation, The Heinz Endowments, and W.T. Grant Foundation.  Advisors to the group include Dr. Robert Putnam and other leading thinkers on related issues of opportunity, mobility, and inequity.

Context/Background

Dr. Robert Putnam has started an enormously important conversation about America’s growing “opportunity gap.”  The issues and trends he raises in his landmark 2015 book Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis comprise an existential challenge to our notions about fairness, the future of American communities, the basis of income inequality, and our assumptions about long-term economic and social sustainability.  Expert national panels convened by Putnam at the Harvard Kennedy School released a highly actionable white paper in early 2016 that outlines five community solutions to narrow the opportunity gap “from cradle to career”:  family supports and parenting; early childhood development; K-12 education in and out of school; strengthening community institutions; and on-ramps to successful work.  The report can be found at www.theopportunitygap.com.  Many of these solutions are known to social change advocates and foundations. The challenge is to align them and empower sustained action. That’s where community foundations come in.

Putnam has said that community foundations, as part of the “civic backbone of America”, are uniquely positioned to sustain attention on the opportunity gap and drive effective action to narrow it. Other major demographers and social change leaders have identified similar downward trends in access to opportunity and related issues of racial and socioeconomic equity. They too have called on community foundations to respond more robustly – not only in our communities, but together. Many of us have taken up that challenge.

CFON Objectives

CFON has two mutually reinforcing objectives:

  1. Create deeper awareness of the opportunity gap and advance a range of solutions in cities and states served by participating community foundations. This will include building understanding and coalitions among government, business, academia, and faith leaders; establishing an effective way to learn from one another as we develop and advance solutions, including those outlined in the five white papers; identifying and advocating for relevant public policy reforms at the state and municipal levels; communicating results within and outside of the field; and other activities TBD.

 

  1. Create a national hub and voice around which other opportunity gap stakeholders — funders, policymakers, social change institutions, and others — might coalesce. This will include a national convening of thinkers, funders, and leaders who have embraced the opportunity gap as a defining problem and are seeking long-term solutions to narrow it; building a cadre of individuals and organizations who are available to speak to policymakers and media about the opportunity gap and how it is being addressed in different part of the country; identifying and advocating for relevant public policy reforms at the federal level; and other activities to be determined.

A third key area of focus is to provide and sustain a robust learning and action network for member foundations to leverage programs, resources, and successes from other foundations and organizations also committed to the work of closing the opportunity gap.

Structure

CFON is lead by a Strategic Advisory Council made up of CEOs of 7 member foundations  and select national thought leaders (final roster TBD).  A larger group of community foundation leaders serve as the CFON Leadership Team to help develop and execute specific activities related to the advancement of our mission.

Both groups are supported by part-time staff:  Terry Mazany (former CEO of Chicago Community Trust) serves as the Network Director and Amy Daly-Donovan (Daly-Donovan Consulting) is the Operations Director.