Key Points

· Faced with increased competition for donors and calls for measurable impact, many community foundations (CFs) are adopting a more proactive, strategic approach to philanthropy – one that has come to be known as "community leadership."

· Community leadership has proven challenging for many CFs. In theory, community assessment is a useful tool allowing CFs to identify strategic issues where leadership activities are warranted. This article examines the effect of a large, coordinated assessment project, the 2000 Social Capital Benchmark Survey (SCBS), conducted by Robert Putnam and the Saguaro Seminar at Harvard University.

· Of the 34 CFs that participated in SCBS, 12 participated in the National Social Capital Learning Circle from 2006-2007. Transcripts and materials generated through monthly conference calls were analyzed to assess the CFs' community-leadership work and to determine the role of SCBS.

· SCBS supported community leadership work by providing data that served as a platform for communitywide conversations, by pointing to strategic issues, and by providing objective evidence to justify the choice of issues.

· For CFs willing and able to serve as a community leader, a community assessment can serve as a useful point of departure for stepping first into facilitative leadership and later into more directive leadership.

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