Regional Community Foundations Consider Merging

Earlier this year, the Boards of Directors of Cambridge and North Dumfries Community Foundation (CNDCF) and Kitchener Waterloo Community Foundation (KWCF) began implementing discussions on becoming the One Community Foundation which would serve the entire region. 

These discussions were originally sparked by the planned departures of Anne Lavender, executive director of CNDCF, and Elizabeth Heald, president and CEO of KWCF. 

Both the CNDCF and KWCF are focused on developing local projects and reinvesting dollars back into their own communities. They work with donors and partners to bring grants to local causes and support a wide range of initiatives to improve the quality of life in these communities. 

“People can create ideas for long term funds, or they can donate to the Community Foundation and in turn, the Community Foundation invests those funds and then takes the returns and grants into the community, and that can be done based on the wishes of the fund holder,” Lori Payne, board chair of the KWCF, said.

“We follow the vision of creating endowments that are long-term investments that will serve the community, and that’s the goal of community foundations. It’s an investment into the future,” Mike Braga, board chair of the CNDCF, said.

From 2019 to 2020, CNDCF granted over $1.052 million to community funds. In 2020, KWCF approved grants of over $5.67 million to local charities and non-profits and committed over $5.7 million in impact investments. 

With the planned departures of Anne Lavender and Elizabeth Heald in the next year and the COVID-19 pandemic greatly affecting the entire region, both foundations accepted joint responsibilities for granting requests in the communities. 

“The three organizations [CNDCF, KWCF and United Way] came together and accepted a tremendous amount of granting requests, and we were the gatekeepers to say, ‘how do we actually support this mean? How do we put these dollars back into the community to help organizations and the community and nonprofit organizations pivot during this period of time?’,” Braga said. 

“It just made sense with the announcements that both senior leaders at the organizations were going to be leaving. It was a great time to envision what the foundations could look like in the future, and what continuing partnership would look like, and so that’s where the unification process began.” 

In partnering together, Braga and Payne studied the needs of their local agencies and supported them in using their grant money for the “highest good.” According to Payne, the foundations’ focus on equity and community impact in terms of affordable housing and necessities surrounding social inclusion remain the same.

“We had actually aligned ourselves a number of years ago with the well-being of wider region priorities, and those continue to serve us well because it really helps us look at the biggest needs in the community,” Payne said.

“We want to take big swings. We want to be a part of the answer in terms of affordable housing and inclusion and diversity and all of those big issues we want to tackle,” Braga said. 

With affordable housing becoming a critical issue for Waterloo Region, the KWCF created a Waterloo Region Vital Signs® Report, which focuses on the current state of affordable housing around the region. The report is built on gathering data from a variety of sources and examines affordable housing through a variety of lenses, such as economic security, gender, immigration, the environment, children and youth, and those with disabilities. It also looks at the impacts for individuals in the community who are Indigenous, Black or racialized.

“In the process of doing the report, one of the findings was that we do not have a lot of good data, especially surrounding our racialized communities,” said Payne. 

The foundations are currently in their exploration phase and are looking to hear from stakeholders on how this decision could impact the organizations involved.

“We want to hear from people. I mean, this is not a closed process, and we want to make sure that this is for the community, by the community,” Braga said.

“We think we can do more good across the region, together and with the partnerships,” Payne said.