Authors: · Dr. Stefan Cibian · Dr. R. Alejandro Hernández Renner – Ansis Bērziņš – Rachel McGrath
The Făgăraș Research Institute led a field-driven evaluation of the European Community Foundations Initiative (ECFI).
The analysis and insights will play an important role in shaping ECFI beyond 2022 and has opened an interesting opportunity for community foundations (CF) practitioners to further connect to and reflect on ECFI’s work.
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: REFLECTION ON ECFI’S WORK
“One of my best experiences in the CF movement, has been with ECFI. It raised expectations regarding to the SDGs, localized conditions within countries, different histories, mentalities, challenges, need for diversity in the CF model, some of the more inspirational people. Knowledge sharing is important, CFs seen as very local, as custodians of civil society, not seen as connectors, but through connectedness their relevance is increased.” (CF practitioner, UK)
ECFI, in a nutshell, weaves a more connected and consolidated Community Foundations (CF) Movement in Europe. ECFI “has achieved a lot, has really brought together a European CF scene.” The experiences presented by those participating in ECFI events indicate that strategically ECFI is filling a significant gap in consolidating community philanthropy, in principle the CF community, “at an institutional level, ECFI is the guarantor of the movement,” giving CFs visibility and recognition. It is seen as “a very important platform” and as “good infrastructure” engaged in enlarging the field of CFs and making it visible. Furthermore, “ECFI is somehow there giving a guarantee, […] legitimacy” and confidence for CFs and Community Foundations Support Organizations (CFSOs). Also, ECFI acts as a connector toward CFs and CF movements in other parts of the world, primarily in Canada and the US.
Expectations on the side of CFs and CFSOs towards ECFI are high. That indicates an array of needs and challenges articulated at national and European levels, which will be explored below. Key aspects relate to language, connectedness, learning and training processes, visibility and relevance of the field, research on the field, the capacity of CFs/CFSOs, and impact assessment. Further expectations concern ECFI’s role in driving community philanthropy efforts in Europe and collaborating with relevant philanthropy-related actors and third parties.
Although often perceived as an organization, ECFI is a program functioning within the BVDS, based in Berlin, Germany. The wide array of needs mentioned above also highlights a capacity challenge related to the number of ECFI’s team members, funding, positioning in relation to other philanthropy organizations and third relevant actors, and strategic alignment. As it stands today, expectations from CFs and CFSOs, given their diversity, are surpassing the capacity of ECFI’s team. That correlates with a funding model under development as it is little likely that ECFI will be able to rely on CFs and CFSOs for a significant level of funding. The COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine both bring additional layers of complexity to ECFI’s work.
The COVID-19 pandemic led to rethinking ECFI’s work and testing multiple online formats and activities. While CF practitioners are affected by the pandemic leading to limited bandwidth for online engagement, ECFI’s virtual study visit, SDG workshops, and thematic sessions, have all been broadly appreciated both content-wise and as a methodology for further engagement (in parallel with more in-person engagement).
Several CFs and CFSOs showed that they are aware of receiving benefits through ECFI that they do not contribute sufficiently towards (especially not financially). Several interviewees expressed a willingness to contribute more and assume more responsibility in driving ECFI’s efforts further. This discussion highlights that a key issue to be addressed is ownership over ECFI’s work by CFs and CFSOs and, related to that, the broader governance of ECFI.
The report engages with the above topics in more detail, highlighting the encountered perspectives and reflections of CF colleagues and peers. The report is based on a layer of reflection in all sections, articulating brief recommendations.