“Place-based” initiatives, which 20 years ago may have been called “comprehensive community initiatives,” bring much needed resources to struggling communities. Yet they may have unforeseen and sometimes unplanned consequences for the communities selected as sites of place-based initiatives. These initiatives can create significant challenges for the community-based organizations and leaders who foundations rely upon for implementation, and they can shift the local ecosystem of power dynamics and organizational relationships in complex ways.

The resurgence of interest in place-based grantmaking initiatives has surfaced the need to strengthen funders’ understanding of best practices as well as the complex dynamics that such initiatives can create at the community level. In 2014, the Aspen Forum for Community Solutions and Neighborhood Funders Group initiated a collaborative effort to develop learning opportunities and programming for funders designed explicitly to improve the effectiveness of place-based grantmaking.

Working with a planning committee,1 the Aspen Forum and NFG organized a two-day convening for funders on Place- Based Philanthropy on September 8-10, 2014 in Aspen, Colorado. Intended as a beginning discussion with a diverse national learning community of funders of all sizes, geogra­phies and experience levels, the convening provided a space for funders from around the country to get grounded in the current discourse on place-based grantmaking, and to share best practices and lessons learned locally and nationally.

Over 100 funders and leaders from the field attended the Aspen/NFG convening to learn from one another about how to better engage with communities and to address the structural implications of social, political, and economic inequities at work in community change processes – particularly, in poor communities, underserved communities and communities of color. The dialogue was rich, with participants challenging themselves to be candid and go deeper in addressing tough questions around the complexi­ties of place-based grantmaking and how funders’ behavior and choices play into both success and failure.

This report provides an overview of the discussions that took place at this conference, including:

  • Lessons shared by experienced place-based funders
  • Key challenges and tensions that arise in place-based grantmaking
  • Participants’ learnings and takeaways from the conference discussions
  • Ways to support grantmakers to improve the practice of place-based grantmaking

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