Our History

The Start

The birth of the Community Foundation model was described as a ‘powerful philanthropic movement.’ And it happened over 100 years ago across the pond in America.

Frederick Harris Goff was at the time, president of the Cleveland Trust Company, and had been appointed by its directors on account of his integrity whilst practicing private law. Offering banking and loan services, the Trust also administered the bequests of many large estates held in trusts. It was here that Goff first felt the need for change, witnessing time after time, that the needs the trusts they looked after were established to meet had often evolved over time, while the trust’s charitable aims did not.


The early twentieth century was a time of great social need, and this misalignment of charitable funds to the needs of the people, coupled with the elitist nature of philanthropy at the time, saw Goff bring about the concept of a new way of giving. Foundations were originally a means of giving invented and adopted by very wealthy men and they were private. The Community Foundation would be endowed and managed by the members of a community for the benefit of the community. They would offer flexibility and respond directly to change in those communities. In 1914 the first community foundation -Cleveland Community Foundation, in Ohio, USA was born.


After that, Goff worked hard to spread the concept as widely as possible. By 1931 was reported that there were 74 community foundations across the US with the idea also taking hold in Canada.

Today there are community foundations on every continent of the globe except Antartica. A true sign that our universal desire to help one another and share resources for the common good has been met by a fitting tool to do so.

At Home

There was also a great man behind the first community foundation launched in the UK in 1975. Joel Joffe.

Born in 1932 in South Africa, Joffe’s life is an interesting read. Once a human rights lawyer who represented Nelson Mandela, his achievements that followed led one of his legacies, the Joffe Trust, to later describe him as a ‘trailblazer for corporate philanthropy.’

And he was certainly trailblazing among his peers, dividing opinion at the insurance firm he co-founded by stating that a fixed percentage of their profits should go to charity. From this, the first foundation for local giving was established to support causes in the local area of Swindon.

Joffe’s influence in the charitable sector spanned long and wide. He established several foundations and means of charitable giving, as well as working on the board of many charities, including for Oxfam.

When interviewed about his life story Joffe recounts that his involvement in charity was more than that of just being a funder; he created a trusted and reliable place of support and advice.

But perhaps what is most interesting about Lord Joel Joffe, as he later became, is this most humble and modest view of himself and his incredible achievements expressed during a life story interview, aged 75:

1975_joel joffe

I think one of the things I’m particularly proud of is the work I’ve done in the voluntary sector and my own charitable trust and I feel guilty that I haven’t given more away than I have, even though I’ve given away most of my wealth. The thing is actually, if you’re really a good person you give away everything. I’ve decided I’m not such a good person but I’m better than many."

Joel Joffe

15 years later…

By the late 80’s the idea of the community foundation was beginning to spread globally and it is believed that a handful existed in the UK at this time.

However, it wasn’t until later that community foundations really began to put down roots, thanks to the help of two charitable organisations.

In 1990 the Charities Aid Foundation and the Mott Foundation partnered to offer a match-funding programme of over £2 million. Successful bidders could secure a significant grant-making endowment that would endure into the future and by doing so, secure the concept of the community foundation more widely.

One of the winning bidders, Penny Johnstone, who subsequently founded the Quartet Community Foundation (Bristol) travelled to California in order to find out more about the model. She says:

It was a concept that wasn’t easily explained or understood, yet it carried great potential."

Penny Johnstone

In 1991 a national association (now UK Community Foundation) was launched to help stimulate the growth of further community foundations as well as foster good practice and encourage knowledge sharing across the network.

And now there are 46 Community Foundations linked to UKCF, with a collective endowment of almost £700 million.

In Devon

In 1986, as a response to the 1985 Charities Act, Devon County Council asked the Community Council of Devon to undertake a thorough review of Devon’s local charities.

Identifying and assessing charities within Devon was a long and formidable task that took many years of hard work. It was clear from the outset that many of the charities the CCD encountered were in need of support and advice. So, whilst working closely with the Charity Commission, the Community Council began to provide them with professional guidance and a means to share practices and learning amongst themselves.

In 1992 a further act was announced, placing new responsibilities on the charities and their trustees. This led the Community Council to consider whether or not it would be appropriate to set up a separate body to work solely for the benefit of the Devon charities to meet these needs.


In 1993 a feasibility study was carried out and concluded:

The ever-increasing body of legislation and its effect on the financial and operational administration of charitable activity highlights the desirability of establishing an independent and professional centralised resource which will guide and advise organisations. Such an organisation also offers advice and guidance in directing funding provided by commercial and industrial sectors.

And so, in 1994 Devon Community Foundation was launched with huge thanks to the Amory Foundation who gifted £15,000 to cover our core costs for the first three years.


The 1993 feasibility study identified that in that year 11.4% of Devon’s population was unemployed – up 70% from two years before.


The report quoted the 1991 Census as showing the age profile of the Devon population at that time to be 6% under 5, 20% under 17, 18% 65+, 9% 75+ and 2% 85 +.


The 1993 feasibility study identified that 24.7% of Devon households lacked central heating.


In 1993 approximately 4000 charities were identified as being in operation in Devon.

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