Collective Impact Initiative

In 2009 as the impact of the economic crisis spread, we re-designed the community investment grant process to respond to the critical situation that was unfolding in the nonprofit sector.

We gathered information from the nonprofits themselves about the needs in our community, and our community-based review panel chose 20 organizations that would address those needs with fewer grantees and larger grants.

In 2010, we analyzed what we had learned and the unique mission of a community foundation and decided to take an even bigger step from the traditional, responsive philanthropy of the past. Instead of sending out a Request For Proposal, identifying the priority focus areas of the foundation, and funding the best proposals that fulfilled that criteria, we refocused our unrestricted Community Investment Grants process. We decided to promote and identify community collaborations that build on existing strengths so that we can increase the capacity of local nonprofit organizations to better serve the community.

In other words, we decided that the role of a community foundation is to address larger community issues that require the work of many public and private organizations and individuals to create a systems change or cultural shift that can have a measurable impact on life in Southern Arizona. We believe no single organization can accomplish that goal by itself, but when organizations work together, the whole can be greater than its parts and real change can occur.

We brought together approximately 200 nonprofit leaders to envision what significant community change they would like to see and provided guidance on how to find others to join them in that work. We received 29 proposals and provided planning grants to Collaboration Teams who would partner with us in developing full proposals. One of the unique aspects of this process was that the nonprofit leaders themselves identified the community goals that, in their knowledgeable opinions, should be achieved.

During the planning period, we provided technical assistance both individually and by offering workshops on how to develop a sustainable collaboration and how to evaluate systems change. A Community Investment leadership group met with each of the Collaboration Teams after receiving drafts of their full proposals and made suggestions to strengthen them. Finally, the Community Investment Review Panel reviewed the final proposals and met with each Collaboration Team prior to making its recommendation to our Board of Trustees.

This process does not end with the sending of a check. The Community Investment team continues to work with the collaborations to ensure that they stay on track. There are quarterly learning meetings to exchange ideas and discuss challenges. Foundation board members and liaisons are assigned to each project, and updates are reported regularly.

Highlights from the July 27, 2011 Arizona Grantmakers Forum program “Place-based Philanthropy: Successful examples in Arizona.” In this clip, Evan Mendelson of the Community Foundation for Southern Arizona explains their unique approach to funding the City of South Tucson Revitalization Partnership.


Lead Organization:  International Sonoran Desert Alliance (ISDA)

Ajo is currently defined as a “food desert.”  Fresh fruits and vegetables are not grown locally and must be brought in from Phoenix.  There is a severe problem of obesity and diabetes in the nearby western communities of the Tohono O’odham Nation which was nonexistent in the 1960’s when the local diet was based on traditional locally grown foods.  Economic development in Ajo has been limited since the mine closed.  The Ajo Regional Food Partnership, through a diverse collaboration of groups (Hia C-ed O’odham Alliance, Tohono O’odham Cutural Center & Museum, Desert Senita Community Health Center, Ajo Unified School District, Ajo Community Food Bank, Ajo Community Garden Consortium, UA Pima Cooperative Extension, Pima County Natural Resources Parks & Recreation, Ajo Botanical Company, Pima County Health Department, and Ajo Community Supported Agriculture), intends to address these issues resulting in a sustainable local food system, new community awareness and engagement in making healthy food choices, restoring their rich cultural foods heritage, and developing new food-based economic opportunities for community residents. This means that food would be grown, distributed and processed locally with robust educational support not only for the growers, distributors and processors, but also for the whole community.  The result will be improved community health and an enhanced local economy.


  • Transforms Ajo from a food desert to a desert oasis.
  • Integrates Ajo and Tohono O’odham food, economic development, health and obesity initiatives  Involves all elements of the food system and engages entire community leadership.
    • Growing – Ajo Grows
    • Processing – Ajo Cooks
    • Distributing – Ajo Eats
    • Teaching/Learning – Ajo Learns


Lead Organization: The Primavera Foundation

The City of South Tucson has a rich culture and close-knit multigenerational families but also many challenges.  It is one of the poorest neighborhoods in Tucson, with high unemployment and distressed homes. Primavera has been working with the local government to address the poor quality of housing stock in the community and involved a group of local teens from the John Valenzuela Youth Center to carry out a South Tucson Neighborhood Revitalization Survey.  With the involvement of other organizations working in the community, such as the South Tucson Prevention Coalition, ASU School of Social Work, Arizona Children’s Association, House of Neighborly Services, PRO Neighborhoods, Southside Presbyterian Church,and the City of South Tucson, this project plans to strengthen, expand, connect, and integrate community assets by partnering to create a neighborhood of choice within the City of South Tucson.


  • Transforms a community with high unemployment, poverty and distressed homes into a city filled with new energy efficient housing, community gardens, active youth and senior groups, and economic development possibilities.
  • Creates a sustainable, integrated neighborhood community development approach  involving government, nonprofits, schools, health organizations, businesses and residents.


Lead Organization:  United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona

The demographics of our community are clear: 21% of the Pima County population is age 60+ years of age and the fastest growing segment is 85+.  We are an aging community and our older adults want to remain attached to their communities—contributing as they are able and successfully aging in place. In response, United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona, Jewish Family and Children’s Services of Southern Arizona, Catalina In-Home Services, Inc., Pima Council on Aging, Interfaith Community Services, a community volunteer, and the UA Arizona Center on Aging will join with other partners to challenge the current paradigm by creating a vision of community revitalization and elder empowerment. By identifying aging resources, expanding partnerships, and building aging advocacy, E.L.D.E.R. will create a replicable neighborhood-based pilot project. They will “engage and empower the older adults across Tucson to create the ideal community in which to live and grow old gracefully.”  Through consumer choice in aging services and support, affordable and diverse housing options, transportation and mobility, and community self-care support, the E.L.D.E.R. Project will result in better quality of life and improved health and wellness for older adults, and social cohesion for our community as a whole, achieving a “community for all ages.”


  • Transforms older adults into valuable community assets.
  • Builds neighborhood infrastructure to support older adults to age in their homes.
  • Creates connections across systems and integrates services to support older adults.