John StremsterferTrust: Our Most Sacred Asset

By: John Stremsterfer In: Community Foundations| Economy| Governance

18 Aug 2011

Trust. It’s perhaps the greatest attribute to have in the world of philanthropy. In the community foundation world specifically, where we at all times are both fundraiser and grantmaker, the trust of donors and charities alike is our greatest asset.

During this remarkable time of financial insecurity in our country and abroad, our field needs to take stock of who we are. Much of organized philanthropy deals in terms of endowment and the notion of perpetuity. Unlike most institutions, endowed foundations are built to be in business forever-quite an audacious concept. The decisions we make today greatly affect the future of our own organizations and the communities we serve. To gain and keep the trust of those we serve, we must look to our business model and policies to dictate our actions. This is rather mundane-not to mention boring. This is nothing to Tweet about. But this is what makes endowed foundations trustworthy institutions.

The Council instituted National Standards for Community Foundations 11 years ago. These standards have increased the level of competency for community foundations throughout the country and have set a high bar for other nonprofits and foundations to follow. Many of these standards speak to investment policies, audit committees, and due diligence. They should be noted and promoted within our field and to the general public to strengthen the bond of trust we have with our communities.

When the whole world seems in chaos, the people who keep their wits about them and stick to their model of business should come out the other side in good shape. We in the endowment business need to be consistent in our philosophy and reliable stewards, and keep the long view in mind. Ultimately, that is what makes us worthy of that most sacred asset-trust.

John Stremsterfer is executive director, Community Foundation for the Land of Lincoln.

2 Responses to Trust: Our Most Sacred Asset

Susan Skora

August 19th, 2011 at 9:32 am

Trust makes our work possible, and it is also our most valued reward.

Community Foundations are a unique toolkit that can serve every community. To do so effectively and efficiently, National Standards are a guide for those leading the effort. For donors and grantees, certification gives independent confirmation that they are working with a competent partner.

Our foundation was one of the first five in the country to receive National Standards certification in 2005, and we just completed recertification. We are celebrating!

Lori Larson

August 26th, 2011 at 2:37 pm

Well stated and appreciated, John. As we present on our GuideStar Trust blog site at, we believe that trust is the currency of civil society. Achieving accountability, transparency, and sound decision-making are dependent upon it.

You make an excellent point about the uniqueness of institutional or organized philanthropy’s role to serve and remain sustainable into “perpetuity.” History has demonstrated that it is rare when any organization or firm (other than a multibusiness entity) can remain in existence or perform well in its sector for more than 20 years. Community foundations has been working diligently to adapt and innovate their vision, business model, and strategic direction to become trusted leaders and experts of charitable giving and community knowledge. As technology, market trends, policy-making, and economics evolve, community foundations have recognized these changes and are dedicated to building trust and sustainability. GuideStar is proud to be a partner with community foundations in helping to achieve these critical philanthropic goals.

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