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Views from the field

Here you will find easy to read articles written by practitioners in the community foundation field based on their personal experience

Irina Șerban-Atanasiu, Galati CF

Community mapping and engagement – a sociologist’s perspective and practice

Irina Șerban-Atanasiu, like a number of others in the community foundation field in Romania, is a sociologist. She therefore has a particular interest in processes of community mapping and engagement. Here she describes three linked instruments developed and implemented in conjunction with ISCOADA, a publishing platform that hosts written articles and multimedia materials that present, in a synthesised and accessible format, research in anthropology and related disciplines. The process, which lasted four months, not only brought clarity to the work of Galati Community Foundation but also it brought the foundation closer to communities and vice versa. Irina concludes saying ‘put yourself out there and bring new blood into the process, it will surprise you for the best’.



During the lifetime of the Galati Community Foundation, I’ve witnessed two major turns. The first one was in 2018, when the epicentre of the Foundation shook to cause a full change in the executive team and the second one in 2020, due to COVID, another turning point for most of the non-profits, but in particular, a moment when our community foundation responded with all its assets to the crises, but lost sight of some its strategic objectives, causing internal burnout and some financial difficulties. As a Demartini method enthusiast I can now say that a balanced view on these events have both positive and negative aspects and I choose to focus on the learning opportunities they brought for the organisation and myself as an individual.

A shoe that fits all - the sociological approach

Community Foundations (CFs) use various ways of mapping a community and should continue to do so in order to keep its ear close to ground, but a higher perspective, thus integrating the now into the next 3 to 5 years or more that build a CF’s strategy.

By the end of 2020, apart from gaining a lot on our image and strengthening our role as some of the first responders to the medical crises, we also took on some new challenges like working in other areas such as the environment and dealing with social issues. Looking back on our operational and strategic plan we thought it would be a good time to scan our communities and engage them in a more insightful conversation in four areas: education, social, health and the environment. We wanted to see what are the needs and resources in these broad topics and how to address them through our programs or bridge them for a more effective cooperation.

With these objectives in mind, I started up a conversation with Rucsandra Pop, now an independent consultant, back then CF Program Director at ARC, on developing some instruments for community mapping and engagement. She connected me to ISCOADA, an editorial initiative that hosts multimedia articles and research in anthropology and other related subjects.

As a sociologist, I’ve often found these methods are suitable when in a social dilemma or when the topic needs more data behind it. After talking to Raluca and her colleagues Laura and Maria from ISCOADA, we agreed to develop and implement three instruments, considering the budget, human resources and timeline: a questionnaire, a guided interview and a sort of focus group in the form of a community coffee talk.


The online questionnaire consisted of mixed open and closed questions with 3 parts: introduction on the view of the city, the core addressing the four areas and the last section that would point to the individual’s resources and availability to get involved in the community.

The introduction focused on the citizen’s view of Galati, as inhabitants and also by comparison to other cities in Romania that they look up to and their arguments for choosing and a question on their intent on leaving or continuing to live here and why. These questions would play into our mission, to make Galati a place to call home, somewhere you would never leave, a place you find your people, family, people that build a strong community.

The core of the survey starts digging into the four distinct areas mentioned, looking for needs or burning issues, a prioritisation of those problems and success stories, initiatives or initiators that are active in the field and would recommend.

The last part of the questionnaire switched the focus on the individual. We wanted to check the person’s availability and will to get involved in the community, either as a donor, volunteer or even initiator.

We launched the questionnaire on Facebook and shared it on different local groups and got 132 answers. We were very pleased to read about the different views on the needs and assets the city brings, as well as some of the systemic problems that are shared around the country. Some of respondents even suggested solutions and offered to play a more active role in them, an outcome we did not foresee, but gladly received and would capitalise on.


Switching from the broader view that the questionnaire brought, I wanted to get a closer look at the non-profits active in our communities in the targeted areas.

The interview guide I worked on with ISCOADA would serve the purpose of gathering similar insights as the questionnaire did, on the needs and resources of their organisation as a first layer. The second layer focused on how the community foundation would best serve them in their activity. Lastly, we wanted to form working groups around their interests and assets, a subject we would address in the next phase, the community coffee talk and continue throughout our activity. 

We talked to 8 NGOs representatives in a 1-hour interview, half of them had previously received grants from us and the other half had never worked with our Foundation before.

Community coffee talk

By the time we organised the community coffee talk (online) ISCOADA managed to centralise all the qualitative and quantitative results of the questionnaire and the summary of the interviews. We invited all of the NGOs’ representatives and others as well to join us in a guided talk about our communities and discover the challenges we share and the opportunities each of us can bridge. The aim of this event was to create a space for sharing the sores (some complaining is inevitable) and to discover the assets and opportunities for cooperation or moving past the difficulties. Representatives of ISCOADA shared a presentation of the reports which were very interesting for all of the participants. Afterwards, the discussion was split into virtual breakout rooms, pending on a common area of interest with a member of the CF in every room. Rucsandra Pop moderated the talk, setting the mindset from needs to asset, which helped a lot in the conversation of how to get a greater impact of our work. There was a shared conclusion by all participants, that such meetings should become recurrent and the idea of a hub for NGOs was again brought up.

The “and”

This process lasted for about 4 months and brought some clarity towards our work, especially considering our areas of intervention. It also brought forth the strategic plan for some very needed updating, but also put us back on track on one of our main strategic goals, which is to empower others, to bridge the initiatives and help them grow. Even if the process showed there were more needs to be addressed in our city and our mission is clearly far from achieved, it brought us closer to our communities and we could see a domino effect. We invited people to speak their minds on very important and stressful subjects, we listened and even if a solution was not handed, being listened to is quite big. We kept our doors open, and guests arrived. We could see new organisations or initiative groups joining our programs that year and more opportunities were shared for us to connect on several of the topics we addressed.

On this occasion and beyond, our job is to find solutions and connect the resources in the city or region for the needs we choose to address, but sometimes we get lost in our work and forget to just talk to the people we are doing this for. Being open and transparent, being available is a great part of our mission and this exercise reminded us of that. We do want to be more consistent in building capacity for our organisations and provide more space for our communities to talk and help them find solutions. The main challenge at hand is getting the resources around this initiative beyond our grantmaking programs. The thought I’m left with after this is to put yourself out there and bring new blood into the process, it will surprise you for the best.


Irina Serban-Atanasiu, Grants manager, Galati Community Foundation


January 2023

Andreea Alexandrov
Communication Manager, FFCR

The Elephant in the Porcelain Factory

Andreea Alexandrov, Federation of Romanian Community Foundations, was among the ECFI Delegates and a session speaker at the UKCF conference in Manchester in October.

Nominated as one of the best presenters for the conference she always offers thoughtful insight, articulated in memorable ways. Below are her succinct reflections on the main conference theme ‘Foundations for the Future: Acting now to Shape Tomorrow’. 

What if the elephant in the ”philanthropy factory” is a crisis of imagination in which we activate solutions that replicate the very patterns that generated the problems in the first place? Taking place in the heart of the city that was the epicenter of British industrialization, ”the UK's largest gathering of professionals involved in local giving and philanthropy”[1], felt like a reunion of friends who have waited a long time to reconnect. And as friends, we shared, we questioned, we celebrated, and we imagined. ”Imagination is connected to a sense of abundance and needs diversity to feed it”[2]. From all the abundance and diversity encountered at the UKCF Conference here are some of the ideas and questions grouped in two areas of tension.

1. The tension of the immediate and the ”business as usual” vs. the alternatives

To be truly visionary we have to root our imagination in our concrete reality while simultaneously imagining possibilities beyond that reality.”  (Bell Hooks)[3]

1. a.) We live in times of multiple challenges, unpredictability and collapsing structures. In times like these, we might choose to invest ourselves in relief interventions and quick resource mobilization. As praiseworthy and necessary as these actions might be, it is important that they do not completely divert our attention from the alternatives. Speakers like Cassie Robinson, Imandeep Kaur, Rachel Coldicutt and others emphasized on the ideas that our communities also need spaces for experimentation and collective imagination, need curators of new narratives and the ”dismantling of what no longer works to make room for the new”[4]. These are important needs, perhaps less obvious than what is seen as urgent and pressing, but which if addressed, could contribute to resilient and thriving communities.

1. b.) Traditionally, community foundations are grant givers. Yet our communities need us to complement the grant giving mandate with more nuanced perspectives. Such new perspectives could mean seeing ourselves as wealth creators for the community not just grant givers, being stewards who build more sustainably and first line investors in community-owned initiatives.

How can we create capacities for resilience and transformation, not just responsiveness? What are the alternatives that we are not paying attention to? How can we invite the new at this time?

2. The tension of plurality vs. building on that which is in  common

”Alternatives are there if we pay attention in different ways but we will not discover them with the same kind of questions that we usually ask.” (Cassie Robinson)[5]

We have a shared identity as much as we have individual local rooted ones. We need to put things in context (different places require different approaches), but sometimes we tend to generalize or contextualize excessively. Community foundations are part of a fantastic network (we reconfirmed that at the UKCF Conference of 2020) and our communities, no matter where we are, have incredible resources that we can build upon. Creativity is one of them (an essential one in relation to the future). It is important to think about the future so that we can fast forward to who we want to be. In order to build on the creativity of our communities we need to create the spaces, the capacities and the infrastructures where complexity and collaboration thrives. This invites us to new questions such as:

What can we do together that we cannot do separately?[6] What are the transformations that we need to think about together and root locally? What does it mean to build the capacity to shape tomorrow for your community?

Andreea Alexandrov, Federation of Romanian Community Foundations

November, 2022


[1] Homepage - UK Community Foundations Conference

[2]  Rob Hopkins, Twitter

[3] Bell Hooks (2014). “Feminism Is for Everybody: Passionate Politics”, p.110, Routledge

[4] Cassie Robinson, UKCF Conference 2022

[5] Cassie Robinson, UKCF Conference 2022

[6] Idem 7