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Member Highlight: Terry Mazany


At a time of increased scrutiny of community foundations and the funds they support, Terry Mazany, senior vice president of philanthropy at the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, understands some of the questions foundations like his are facing.

"A community foundation has a dual mission to serve the community, where the needs are expressed, and the contributors of the capital, the donors," he told Nonprofit Quarterly in a recent interview. "And when it becomes narrowed to only one, the community foundation, I think, loses its ability to be maximally impactful to add the greatest value to the community."

An overemphasis on donors is just one recent criticism of community foundations. Others have been calling for greater regulation of donor-advised funds, including disclosure of donors. Some foundations have been criticized for managing funds that give to organizations considered hate groups.

Terry says the responsibility for rising above these attacks -- and confirming the place of community foundations as an engine for public good -- will require strong leadership focused more on impact than assets. Do that, he says, and "the money will follow."

"To me, where the confusion grows is when you start from the growth angle, the asset accumulation. You sacrifice the original purpose of a community foundation as a civic leadership institution," he said. "It's all about claiming the identity of the community foundation, and the only way to change that perception is for the community foundation to live up to the identity of a civic leadership institution that brings demonstrated value improving the community that it serves."

While he is a strong believer in the power of community foundations, he doesn't feel the same way about commercial funds, which he considers "extractive."

"The commercial gift funds are an example of that extraction of a community's philanthropic wealth from the community, from the hands of residents or leaders in that community," Terry said. "A community foundation serves to root that philanthropic capital deeply into the community for the needs of that community."

Along the same lines, he believes that community foundations should be dedicated to philanthropy within their own communities, as opposed to managing funds whose giving targets national or international priorities.

"In my opinion, every community foundation has a responsibility to try to reach into that swirling mass of trillions of dollars of wealth transfer circling the globe, and try to grab and pin to their locale those resources that most likely originated from that community and that become available for present and future needs," he said. "In my mind, community foundations are the stewards of a city's or a region's philanthropic endowment."

Few people in the sector are as knowledgeable as Terry about community foundations. Prior to his work in Atlanta, he was president and CEO of The Chicago Community Trust, one of the country's oldest community foundations. Terry says that, while there, he tried to ensure the foundation embodied the spirit of its hometown -- described by city planners as "the constant, steady determination to bring about the very best conditions of city life for all the people, with full knowledge that what we as a people decide to do in the public interest we can and surely will bring to pass."

"That's what we stood for, and that's what we championed -- this public interest, this public good -- and everything followed," Terry says. "That became our standard and the mirror we held up to ourselves. And when I encourage community foundations to think about rediscovering those impulses that led to their founding, magic happens."

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