The National Standards for US Community Foundation define a community foundation as:
“A tax-exempt, nonprofit, autonomous, publicly supported, nonsectarian philanthropic institution with a long-term goal of building permanent, named component funds established by many separate donors for the broad-based charitable benefit of the residents of a defined geographic area, typically no larger than a state.”
In common terms, a community foundation is a public charity designed to take charitable contributions from donors, invest them in permanent funds, and funnel the interest from the invested funds back into the community in the form of grants. The community foundation is typically governed by a volunteer board of private citizens chosen to represent the public interest and focus on the needs of the community.
A community foundation is unique in that it serves three audiences: donors, nonprofit organizations, and the community at large. Working to serve these three audiences requires a diverse knowledge of the current issues and problems facing individual communities, the ability to assist individuals and other organization with grantmaking expertise, and a need to take a leadership role in the community to weave the various nonprofits and organizations together for a common goal.
The first community foundation was created in Cleveland, Ohio in 1914 by retired judge and banker, Frederick Goff.