Over the past several months, Coastal Community Foundation has gone through the process of self-evaluation in order to set a strategic direction. This included our purpose statement because we believe where we are now is different from the place we were in when we wrote our mission statement more than a decade ago.
What does this mean? At 44 years old, our organization and our Board are at an important inflection point. We’ve grown up and matured, the world has kept on changing, and our business model is following suit.
We’re experiencing a level of competition that we could not have imagined 15 years ago. And we’re beginning to work with a younger, more active and socially conscious group of donors who want us to be more engaged in the contemporary issues of our day.
At the same time, we’re balancing donor centricity and what’s important to each individual and donor family with a younger, more socially active team on staff. According to our CEO, “This next generation does not necessarily tolerate a lack of transparency that my generation grew up expecting.”
Asking Ourselves Questions
Going into the creation of our new purpose statement, we considered all these different variables, and asked ourselves, “Why do we exist? What is our value add to the communities and donors we serve?” and “How can one sentence reflect all of that?” After agreeing on the core of our purpose, we asked our team a few more questions—just to be sure we got it right.
This is what we came up with:
Coastal Community Foundation helps create vibrant communities by uniting people and investing resources.
Reflecting On Our New Purpose Statement
What are “vibrant communities”? How do you respond to the idea of “vibrant communities” as the foundation for what we do?
A few pieces of feedback from our team:
“It takes courage and speaking up for people who don’t have a voice to make other people inspired and realize that they can do the same as well. By banding together, it’s just that more powerful.”
“Something that’s important to remember, is that we’re working to create vibrant communities, but we’re not doing that in a vacuum. We are working towards this aspirational goal—to help create vibrant communities—and we’re trying to get people on board who might not want to be on board, at least not at first.”
“Depending on where you live, ‘vibrant’ can mean different things for different people. I think it’s essential that we remember that we don’t use the same prescriptive method to work with every community across the board. We must really get to know people to understand what vibrant means to them.
“The words ‘vibrant’ and ‘community’ can mean so many different things to everyone. ‘Vibrant’ could mean just having access to a grocery store. It’s important not to blanket the definition of this or ‘community.’”
“I love the foundation for this idea—it’s important for us to remember communities know how they need to change, and we don’t need to tell them how to do that.”
“Note the word ‘help’ in our purpose statement. Our goal is not to do something to, but something with our neighbors in communities.”
How do we help create vibrant communities? By uniting people.
This idea can be overwhelming. But our team sees this as a “glass half-full” situation. We appreciate that there are difficulties with bringing people together in ways that are meaningful. This poses the need for an entirely new set of competencies and skills as leaders and doers. We never want to go into a community and tell that group what to do. We want to work alongside and help create vibrant communities.
In some cases, this means politely pushing back and offering alternate solutions in challenging conversations. In some towns, it’s difficult for a City Council leader and Mayor to sit down and talk with each other. In cases like these, our approach is to remind each leader of the aspirations of their constituents, help them see what’s in the best interest of the whole, and then build bridges to take joint action. Why? Because progress happens at the speed of trust.
A few more pieces of feedback from our team:
“I think it makes it more reasonable to acknowledge that we’re not expecting everyone to agree on everything. That’s not what ‘uniting people’ means. It means finding a common goal and bringing people together toward it. That’s why we didn’t choose ‘supporting’ or ‘connecting.’”
“Someone said to me the other day, ‘Since you started the Civic Engagement Agenda, you’re not going to support the arts anymore.’ But that’s the opposite of what is true. Vibrant communities require all kind of life—and the arts are a part of that.”
“What’s important to me about this idea is that we’re acknowledging that we can’t do it all, and we don’t know it all. By ‘uniting people,’ we are making a conscious, active decision to bring people with all different life experiences, levels of education, etc. to the table.”
From this conversation, we confirmed that it’s incredibly important to our staff and Board not to make blanket statements, about the words “vibrant” or “communities.” “Uniting” means bringing people together from disparate points of view and backgrounds and coming together around a common goal.
We learned words do matter and that if we’re not careful, the presentation of this information can drive wedges further into community divides. But through our work on the Civic Engagement Agenda and in conversations like this one, we know that when you sit down and have a “kitchen table conversation” with a person from any background, their hopes, dreams and aspirations come down to many of the same things.
And as we continue through this process of embodying our new purpose statement and core values, our CEO reminds us, “don’t forget the four traditions of American philanthropy—relief, improvement, social reform and civic discourse/engagement, and to always be mindful of the five forms of philanthropic capital (SMIRF)—social, moral, intellectual, reputational and financial.”
In the end, CCF was born to do just what our purpose statement says—to help create vibrant communities by uniting people and investing resources. Our CEO said it best:
“The permanency of our endowed philanthropy, and the power of people’s stories and values—those are some powerful ways to contribute.”