"An Agile Servant", Revisited

Next year will mark the 30th anniversary of one of the seminal works in research on the community foundation field.  An Agile Servant (The Foundation Center, edited by Richard Magat, 1989) was published to celebrate the seventy-fifth anniversary of the community foundation field.  It was one of the major products of the National Agenda for Community Foundations, a three-year project overseen by the Council on Foundations.

The book itself fits into two distinct parts.  Part I is a series of ten essays on everything from asset growth to leadership to collaboration.  In Part II, the reader can dig deeper into stories from sixteen community foundations across the country.  These stories talk of what works – and what doesn’t – in strategic directions relating to grantmaking, asset development, and community leadership.

Growth of community foundations was strong in the 1980’s, yet pale in comparison to today’s field.  The book noted 259 community foundations with total assets of $4.7 billion.  Today, over 850 community foundations boast collective assets in excess of $90 billion.

Even from a distance of nearly thirty years, many of the topics of the book still ring true.  James Joseph called on community foundations to step up their roles as community leaders.  Paul Ylvisaker cautioned that as the field grew we would become “inviting targets for public attention and increased regulation”.  Jennifer Leonard (now President & CEO of the Rochester Area Community Foundation) reviewed the different stages of community foundation growth and how those stages influence asset development priorities.

Steve Minter, who served as president and executive director of the Cleveland Foundation from 1984 until 2003, called for the creation of national standards for community foundations.  Eventually in 2000 the field approved those operating standards, and since that time they have been widely accepted by the entire field.

So if you have time yet this summer, dust off our copy of this book, or find it in your local library.  The title itself is a reminder to all of us that we need to be agile in what we strive for, while remaining a servant to our community.