Listening, Leveraging, and Learning: The Work of the Community Foundation of South Jersey

December 14, 2009

Today’s post comes to us from Sidney Hargro of the Community Foundation of South Jersey

Sidney Hargro, Community Foundation of South Jersey

Four years in the making, the Community Foundation of South Jersey (CFSJ) is now poised to inspire philanthropy from South Jersey for South Jersey that effectively addresses today’s challenges while building a community endowment that will address the emerging issues of tomorrow. To all of those who had a hand in the formation of CFSJ, take a deep breath…and a bow! You did it!

CFSJ banner

The passionate and committed early efforts of the coordinating committee members, led by Chair Jack Tarditi, Vice Chair Mindy Holman, Nina Stack of the Council of New Jersey Grantmakers, and others has been rewarded with a $600,000 operating and grantmaking grant from the Ford Foundation and a $50,000 operating grant from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation for which we are extremely grateful. With this seed investment, CFSJ will create a brand of philanthropy that is fueled by a framework of listening, leveraging, and learning.


Every great endeavor must begin with listening, and listening will take on a variety forms at CFSJ. The first act of listening has already begun in the form of listening to those who had a hand in creating the foundation to capture their “hopes and dreams” for the region. This will be followed by a regional tour to engage leaders from the nonprofit sector, business, government, higher ed and others in conversations about the diverse communities that constitute South Jersey. We want tohear their ideas about how CFSJ can help them make a difference. Why? Because we believe innovative ideas and solutions to the greatest challenges in South Jersey lie within the people of South Jersey. This tour will also help us identify community ambassadors throughout the region to serve as the foundation’s eyes and ears.


Lucy Bernholz, Founder and President of Blueprint Research & Design, Inc. and visiting scholar at the Stanford University Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society,  simply defines philanthropic leverage as “the use of dollars in pot A to access dollars from Pot B”. For CFSJ, we will expand this notion by using existing human and financial capital to access additional human and financial capital, all for the purpose of seeding a movement that will continuously improve the quality of life in South Jersey. In other words, we will not only play the role of philanthropic advisor to individuals, families, and businesses – conveniently connecting them to the causes they care about – but we will also cultivate relationships between donors, regional and national funders, and others that have similar social change agendas.


One of the best definitions that I have heard for the term “learning organization” is:

“Organizations with an ingrained philosophy for anticipating, reacting and responding to change, complexity and uncertainty.”  —Yogesh Malhotra, PhD

Using this definition, it would appear that community foundations are ideally positioned to be a community’s foremost learning organizations, especially with the economic realities that some say is the “new normal”. To that end, CFSJ is committed to monitoring and evaluating incremental improvements on the road to making a difference in the region.

Listening, leveraging, and learning is not a linear process. It is a continual, artistic symphony of elements that simultaneously works to make CFSJ a relevant philanthropic organization. For more information on the the work of the foundation, please visit our website at