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With Vital Signs to Rational Action

An event for locally engaged individuals, data freaks and community foundations – Deutscher Stiftungs Tag 17 May, Nuremberg.

Report by Anja Böllhoff

“Vital Signs” does not translate easily into German, so not surprisingly this session at the annual assembly of German foundations attracted much interest and many questions. With highly experienced input from Ian Bird, CEO Community Foundations of Canada, Cathy Elliott, leading chair for Vital Signs in the UK (2011-2016) and Beata Hirt, CEO Community Foundation Banska Bystrica/Slovakia, and the German consultant Michael Alberg Seeberich participants not only had a first contact to the growing network of people and organizations successfully deploying Vital Signs, but as well tried to find connections to their own local approaches.

“The great strength of Vital Signs as a tool for community foundations to further explore their local leadership role, is the fact that it’s so adaptable to local needs”, Ian Bird stressed several times. He suggested finding an individual approach, to start asking the “own” questions and using it for “individual” purposes. “It’s about understanding your community better, not about adopting a Canadian model”.  How this could happen was described by Beata Hirt from the Healthy City CF in Banska Bystricka. Participants learned the added value Vital Signs gives for their donor relationship and for dialogue with the community. With these added values Vital Signs fits perfectly to what German community foundations want to further develop: their understanding of local needs and their network on the ground.

Nevertheless the mass of existing data in Germany seems to unsettle the Germans and many wondered how and why a community foundation should run this process. Why should Vital Signs change the lives of German community foundations was one of the main questions participants raised. The need to better communicate and to democratize official data was not only Ian’s answer but as well Beata’s experience.

With competent support from Beyond Philanthropy, the Hamburg Community Foundation will now start a pilot project exploring all the questions on the way to the first Vital Signs report in Germany and to an even stronger communication with the community of the community foundation’s work. ECFI and Bürgerstiftungen Deutschlands will both offer further support with future smaller and larger working groups and exchange of know-how and experience with those who already work with Vital Signs.

German community foundations go for it, knowing it will be a long-term process.