Editor's note: You may have read this opinion piece in your local newspaper, as different versions have been sent to news outlets throughout North Carolina. In markets where we are the sole community foundation, the op-ed has been signed by Jennifer alone. In media markets that have readership served by additional community foundations, the piece has been co-signed by Jennifer and other foundation leaders. A version co-signed by Jennifer and Lori O'Keefe, Triangle Community Foundation's president, appeared today in Raleigh's News & Observer.

At its roots, America is philanthropic. In the face of a problem -- whether hunger, homelessness, illiteracy or unemployment, to name just a few -- we join hands voluntarily to fix it.

And anyone, however modest their means, can be part of the solution, thanks in large part to organizations modeled on a pioneering philanthropic structure launched in Cleveland 100 years ago this month.

Known as community foundations, they collectively are a multi-billion-dollar engine for social good. Yet they often operate below the radar in the communities they enrich.

Philanthropic hubs

The more than 700 U.S. community foundations are philanthropic hubs serving and connecting donors and nonprofits. They make it easy for anyone to create a charitable fund, and they manage the funds and work with donors to support causes they care about.

Reflecting Americans' deep generosity, community foundations steward more than $55 billion in assets, raise nearly $5 billion a year in new funds, and make annual grants totaling $4.2 billion.

North Carolina is home to 12 nationally certified community foundations serving nearly all of the state's 100 counties. They have worked with donors to create over 9,000 charitable funds totaling approximately $2.4 billion. And since their inception, they have awarded nearly $2.6 billion in grants to support causes from hunger and homelessness to the arts and environment. Annually their grantmaking totals over $236 million. I am proud to represent the North Carolina Community Foundation that serves this community and many more in 67 counties throughout the state. We invite you to find one of our local affiliates here.

Perpetual philanthropy

Community foundations provide a permanent home for philanthropic funds created by individuals, families, entrepreneurs, companies and other organizations, and are a perpetual source of local philanthropic capital. With trillions of dollars expected to be transferred between generations over the next 40 years, community foundations will play an indispensable role helping donors invest their dollars in local causes.

As experts on philanthropy, local needs and nonprofits, community foundations work with donors, and their lawyers, accountants and other professional advisors, to create charitable funds that meet donors' family and business needs and that reflect their personal values.

In addition to making grants, community foundations help nonprofits manage their operating reserves and endowments, and strengthen their organizations to better serve constituents.

Community resource

Community foundations are vital centers of local knowledge for donors, nonprofits, business, government and citizens. They raise awareness of philanthropy and local issues and bring together local leaders and experts to talk about solutions.

Whether working in our biggest cities or smallest counties, community foundations are an important source of philanthropic expertise and capital. That capital represents dollars that otherwise might not have stayed in those communities or supported local causes.

In the face of urgent social problems that elude quick fixes, our best hope of finding solutions lies in the fundamentally American approach of working together to make our communities better. Community foundations support local philanthropy, collaboration and partnership. Through them, every North Carolinian can play part in building a successful future for their community.

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