Community Foundations and You

9, 10, 11, 12

This lesson will teach students the role of a community foundation, explain that it is a part of the third sector of the American economic system, and extend the possibility that a foundation may fund a student project to benefit the community.

Lesson Rating 
PrintFour Forty-Minute Class Periods Plus Experiential Time

The learner will:

  • list and explain the functions of the three sectors of the American economic system.
  • identify foundations as a part of the third sector.
  • summarize the function and purpose of their local community foundation.
  • apply for funds from a local foundation and carry out the project for which those funds are requested.
  • Foundations and Their History (Attachment One)
  • Written Reflection and Speaker Notes (Attachment Two)
  • Rubric for Paragraph, Interview Notes and Application (Attachment Three)
  • Local Community Foundation Application (must be secured by teacher)


  1. Anticipatory Set: Write "Three Sectors of the American Economic System" on the board and ask students to name them.

    Define each sector and ask students to brainstorm examples in each category.

    • Business: grocery store,  hardware store
    • Government: schools, road commission, Post Office
    • Independent/Non-Profit: faith-based institutions, Salvation Army, food pantry

    Keep going until the list is as complete as possible. Discuss why all three sectors are needed. It is likely that students will be able to name many businesses, fewer government agencies, and even fewer non-profits.

  2. If students don't name any foundations, ask them where a foundation would fit. Define foundation as "an organization created from designated funds from which the income is distributed as grants to not-for-profit organizations or, in some cases, to people." Ask students to name some local and national foundations. Examples may include their community foundation or some local family foundations. Or foundations they hear on public radio or TV: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, or The Ford Foundation.

    • Provide some background information about foundations. (See Foundations and Their History, Attachment One.) Have students take notes on the information. Ask students to identify a core democratic value which foundations might be supporting through their work.
    • Tell the students that there will be a speaker the next day from the local Community Foundation.
  3. Have students write a two or three-paragraph paper that includes the following:

    • name and define the three sectors of the American economic system.
    • define foundation and give three examples and the focus or key work of each.
    • give three benefits derived from foundations.
    • identify a core democratic value that foundations support.
  4. Day Two:

    A representative from the local community foundation comes to the class and explains the purpose, function, role, and focus of the foundation. Ask the representative of the foundation to bring a grant application.

    • While the foundation representative speaks, have students take notes on an interview form (Written Reflection and Speaker Notes, see Attachment Two).
    • During the question and answer portion, ask for his/her personal definition of philanthropy and how the organization supports giving and serving in the community.
    • Ask whether the foundation might help finance a class service learning project.
    • Allow students to ask additional questions, obtain the grant application, and thank the speaker.
    • Ask students to turn in interview sheets.
    • The teacher should make copies of the grant application for the next day.
  5. Day Three:

    • Divide students into groups of four. Have teams look over the grant application, decide on a project for funding, and assign each team member a part of the grant to complete.
    • Students must each turn in the section they do by the end of the hour.
    • The teacher should proofread the students' work and return it to copy on a grant application the next day.
  6. Day Four:

    • Each group creates a final version of the grant application and present its application to the class
    • The class discusses the benefits and challenges of doing the service-learning projects proposed by the groups.
    • They vote on which application to submit to the community foundation. 
    • If funds are approved, the class should carry out the project and do oral and written reflections on the experience.

The written paragraph, interview notes, and application may be assessed. See Attachment Three: Rubric for Paragraph, Interview Notes and Application.

Cross Curriculum 

Students will complete proposals for funds from a local foundation, evaluate them, and submit one final application for the best project. They will also carry out the project, if possible, when the funds are approved.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 02. Roles of Government, Business, and Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Explain why needs are met in different ways by government, business, civil society and family.
    2. Standard DP 05. Role of Foundations
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Define the term foundation and describe the types of foundations.
  2. Strand PHIL.IV Volunteering and Service
    1. Standard VS 02. Service and Learning
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Select a service project based on interests, abilities, and research.