Arizona Community Foundation: Redefining how a community foundation creates impact

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Arizona Community Foundation: Redefining how a community foundation creates impact


Articulate a community foundation’s impact and make the case to donors


A new impact model led to changes in donors’ knowledge, mindsets, and behaviors


By standard measures, the Arizona Community Foundation (ACF) had been successful. Over 10 years, assets under management grew from $400 million to just over $1 billion. Yet assets under management failed to fully capture the story of impact on donors, nonprofits, and their communities. At the same time, ACF, like other community foundations, felt increasing pressure from critics of donor-advised funds (DAFs) on one side, and commercial financial institutions building a massive DAF businesses on the other. ACF needed a better way to tell their story of impact and document that case to donors.

ACF engaged Community Wealth Partners to help create a new model for articulating impact. To begin, we interviewed staff and board members and conducted research to develop an impact model that would show ACF’s vision for building a culture of philanthropy. This model described how the community foundation worked with donors and grantees, causing each party to grow in ways that resulted in greater impact.

Community foundations’ greatest value proposition is that they are deeply rooted in the community and they assist donors in deepening their connection and impact in the community. The community foundation impact model created from this work (see below) has helped other community foundations understand what motivates donors to give and discover ways to support donors in creating greater impact through their giving.

Once the impact model was defined, we tested for evidence of this culture of philanthropy among ACF’s donors and grantees. We interviewed a small sample of donors (50) and probed for changes in their knowledge, mindsets, or giving behaviors since starting their philanthropy with ACF. With grantees, we sought to understand how ACF donors’ support – both financial and non-financial – helped further their missions, while acknowledging that the impact of a single donor’s support can’t normally be measured.

A new model

of impact


Our research found early evidence of a culture of philanthropy and affirmed ACF’s unique value proposition. Donors who worked with ACF relationship managers on defining their philanthropic goals were connected with nonprofits that focused on donors’ specific interest areas. Donors became more engaged with these nonprofits and supported them with financial resources, access to their networks, and volunteering, thus becoming more connected with the specific needs of the nonprofit and producing a greater impact through a stronger relationship.

A second round of interviews with donors revealed important insights about the ways donors’ knowledge, mindsets, and behaviors changed as a result of their engagement with the community foundation. The study showed that by giving through ACF, most donors increased their knowledge of social issues (70%), while a smaller group changed their understanding of a problem (36%) or shifted their giving behavior (45%). For example, after seeing the flexibility that unrestricted gifts afforded nonprofits, one donor decided to give only unrestricted gifts. These donor interviews also highlighted ways ACF could better support donors in their philanthropic giving. These insights led the foundation to create a team of relationship managers and technology managers to streamline processes and build better tools to segment their donors and provide tailored support specific to their individual needs. For example, the team captured philanthropic interest areas on donor profiles and built nonprofit experiences for donors, including inviting them to specific programs the foundation created around those interest areas. A 2020 Center for Effective Philanthropy Donor Perception Report highlighted substantial improvements in ACF donor satisfaction compared to the results from 2015 and 2012 reports, with donors providing their highest-ever ratings for the majority of measures in the report.

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