Key Points

What happens when a foundation invests in community building for the long haul? The Ford Family Foundation, a rural embedded funder in southern Oregon, has made that transition over the past decade. The result is a transformed organization with a 10-year strategic plan focused on helping rural communities build the futures that they want to see — places where children and families can thrive.

The foundation is pursuing community building not as a stand-alone strategy or “initiative,” but as a philosophy that guides local community development efforts based on capacity building and grantmaking based on partnerships. The shift to a community-based approach allows it to engage with rural communities on a nearly issue-agnostic basis and support them in developing the “Four Cs”: connections, capacity, community-led action, and a culture of community building.

The approach is represented by the bilingual Community Building Approach Wheel, a framework and language created by convening a cross-section of rural leaders as working teams to describe communitybuilding principles and practices. The foundation developed partnerships with several communities to describe their communitybuilding work, and the wheel, now owned by dozens of communities, is not static: It continues to evolve as the work evolves, as new communities join, and as the foundation and its partners learn and change.

This article shares learnings from The Ford Family Foundation’s experience of becoming a community-building organization and the difference it has made. It also discusses some of the pitfalls it has encountered along the way and how the foundation has responded to them. To be clear: This work is not done; it is ongoing. There is much more to do and much more to learn.

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