Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines

Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines

How will You Prepare Your Foundation to Become a Community Leader?

Today, Des Moines is a thriving metropolis, a cultural center for Iowa and the recipient of Forbes magazine’s “Best Places for Business and Careers.”  A decade ago, Des Moines was a city of many stories.  Like its peer cities, it had become victim to the loss of corporate headquarters, suffered population attrition, and struggled with immigration and affordable housing issues.  Yet it was also undergoing a wonderful physical renaissance with private and public projects aimed at improving the quality of life and making downtown an enticing place to live, work and visit.  One thing was clear: the region was changing.  And the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines (CFGDM) needed to change with it.  

Founded in 1969, the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines is a donor-driven public foundation with a mission to improve the quality of life through philanthropy.  In 2005, with assets of over $80 million, the Foundation had the capacity to be an influential player in the region but was only a shadow benefactor.  Operating with a skeleton crew made it difficult to reach the scale the Foundation’s board desired and they were not well known among the region’s donors, public officials and civic leaders.  The time was ripe to create a plan that would help the Foundation increase its visibility and influence in the community.    

As our team listened to the Foundation’s story, we recognized an imminent need to conduct an evaluation of its work and standing in the community. Leading focus groups and interviewing board members, donors, and community stakeholders gave us insight into perceptions of the Foundation’s abilities, efforts, and opportunities.  

The external stakeholder research highlighted the Foundation’s limitations around size and visibility, but provided wide-ranging suggestions for its potential roles going forward. “The cross section of interviews was helpful because it brought to light the differences in board and community perspective and those came into play in setting strategy,” noted Kristi Knous, then Vice President of Donor Relations and Programs and now President of the Foundation.

During the subsequent strategic planning process, the Foundation Board agreed on an ambitious agenda for growth in asset size, visibility and positioning in the community.   The plan included strategies, action plans and indicators for measuring the success of each goal.  Implementation of the strategic plan led to investments in key positions, which helped the Foundation grow more quickly, and a catalytic role in leading a community visioning process that engaged the business sector, public officials and civic leaders. 

Over time, leaders came to recognize the Foundation’s capacity to participate in issues critical to the Greater Des Moines community as a funder, planner, convener and catalyst.  As a result, when issues arose, people called the Community Foundation first.  How do we know this?  The Foundation engaged us again, this time to evaluate the impact of the previous strategic plan and prepare for the next one.  In assessing the success of the plan, we surveyed stakeholders and asked:  Would you describe the Community Foundation as a community leader? Ninety-seven percent of respondents said yes.


Kristi Knous describes the excitement in achieving their goal, “We wanted to focus on being a convener, being community leaders, being at the important tables, using our funding and resources in a community leadership way.  When we reviewed that plan in 2012, we were able to see how successful we had been.  We were able to say ‘Gosh, we achieved that.’  The community saw us as a significant player, whereas five years prior that wasn’t the case.”