As defined by the Council on Foundations, a community foundation is a tax-exempt, nonprofit, autonomous, nonsectarian philanthropic institution supported by the public with the long-term goals of:
- Building permanent, component funds established by many separate donors to carry out their charitable interests;
- Supporting the broad-based charitable interests and benefitting the residents of a defined geographic area, typically no larger than a state; and
- Serving in leadership roles on important community issues.
Most community foundation assets are held in individual funds established by local individuals, families, businesses or organizations. Each fund may have a specific purpose designated by the donor.
There are over 750 community foundations in the United States and over 1,800 community foundations throughout the world. The first community foundation was established in 1914 in Cleveland, Ohio.