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 50 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.

Vision

All young people, regardless of place, race or identity, and income, have access to opportunities that set them up for success.

Mission

Using the unique position of community foundations, CFON accelerates and strengthens progress toward closing the opportunity gap.

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.  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 has adopted the framework developed by the US Partnership for Mobility from Poverty as a way to organize the content-focus of our work, and has adapted it to include a deliberate focus on equity and inclusion.

CFON Objectives

CFON has two mutually reinforcing objectives:

  • Increase the capability of individual community foundations to drive meaningful change in closing the opportunity gap in their communities.
  • Aggregate the power of community foundation to drive real change beyond individual, local communities.

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 led by a Governing Council made up of CEOs of 7 member foundations:

  • Richard Ober (Chair), CEO, New Hampshire Charitable Foundation
  • Sara Boyd, CEO, Omaha Community Foundation
  • Will Ginsberg, CEO, Community Foundation for Greater New Haven
  • Tony Mestres, CEO, The Seattle Foundation
  • Holly Sampson, CEO, Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation
  • Jay Williams, President, Hartford Foundation for Public Giving

A 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:

  • Christina Ciociola, Community Foundation for Greater New Haven
  • Michele Frix, The Seattle Foundation
  • Elysa Gordon, Hartford Foundation for Public Giving
  • Lesley Grade, Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta
  • Mark Lomax II, The Columbus Foundation
  • Sonia Worcel, Oregon Community Foundation

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.