Date of Award


Degree Name

PhD Leadership Studies

Dissertation Committee

Hans Peter Schmitz, PhD, Chair; Laura J. Deitrick, PhD, Member; Marcus Lam, PhD, Member


Community Foundation, Community Leadership, Community Engagement, Civic Leadership, Collective Leadership


Community foundations claim to play an integral role in fostering philanthropy at a community level all across the United States. Community foundations have three distinct operational roles, including asset building, grantmaking, and community leadership. While asset building and grantmaking have methods available to quantify and measure their impact, community leadership has remained an elusive concept for community foundations for many years.

This study investigates the idea of community leadership in the context of 81 community foundations based in California. The first part develops a conceptual framework of community leadership based on existing studies and practical guidelines, including the use of civic leadership, collective leadership, and community engagement. The framework provides an opportunity to apply leadership at the institutional level and assists in examining nonprofit organizations as the unit of analysis.

The second part compares community foundations' purpose statements and mission statements across organizations and across time. The findings indicate the overall operating framework for community foundations has remained consistent; however, the stakeholders and goals of community foundations have appeared to change from being community focused to donor focus. The data indicate that the community leadership role has increased over the years but appears to have been primarily adopted by older community foundations versus the majority of community foundations founded after 1990—after the formal establishment of community leadership as a best practice with the field in 1990.

The third part of the study reports on interviews with community foundation leaders regarding their perceptions of different leadership tactics, community initiatives, and grantmaking programs. The evidence from the interviews indicated that leaders practicing community leadership, in line with the conceptual framework and definition, are reporting an increase in community awareness, the number of active donors, and ultimately increases in funds raised and available for community investment.

Document Type

Dissertation: Open Access


Leadership Studies