The chief takeaway from the fall conference’s closing talk and panel session is this: The country is in a tough spot now and will continue to be for the next 5 to 10 years, financially and politically.

Government is gridlocked and revenues are ever-diminishing in a time of greater need, but cooperation and cash aren’t the only commodities in limited supply. People lack trust and optimism that things will get better. The “new normal” may not be a shift just in the way the public and private sectors work, but in the way citizens interact and understand each other. This could be for the better… or for the worse.

Community foundations are not on the periphery of the seismic shifts occurring in the economy or in our country’s social and political conversations, as this year’s conference made clear. They are facing not only tighter grantmaking budgets, but shorter tempers in their communities because of the greater polarization the country is experiencing.

Community foundations know, however, that much of the capital they help build is not measured in dollars or dependent on stocks or monetary policy; rather, it’s social capital. It’s the trust, mutual reciprocity, and citizen-led problem-solving that is fundamental to the democratic process and the process of building more cohesive and inclusive communities. Social capital requires its own investment-but it doesn’t always have to be financial.

Instead, the investment can be in the form of leadership and vision. Community foundations can use their unique position as a nexus of public and private resources to convene diverse populations to work together and leverage available resources to tackle local challenges.

The spill-over benefits of convening local leaders-and being the “grease and glue” of community engagement-come in the form of not only increased participation, but also increased collaboration and partnership across differences, be they cultural, religious, or socio-economic. This reduces possible tensions and prejudices that might come from long-standing fears of “the other” or a feeling of competition for more scarce resources.

Community foundations that actively set a common table for diverse populations to rally around strengthen the ability of their communities to tap assets and resources that are many times lost in less lean times, when it’s not always a necessity to think outside of community and issue silos. The One Nation Foundation has had the incredible opportunity to partner with community foundations in the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Chicago, New York, and St. Paul seeking to do just that.

The assets in our communities are too great to be wasted. In fact, we must ensure they appreciate in value and significance so we can effectively build bridges and ensure that local communities are not swept into the mix of uncertainty but become bulwarks of cooperation.

Henry Izumizaki is CEO of the One Nation Foundation and Strategic Advisor to The Russell Family Foundation in Gig Harbor, WA.

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