Meet Josiah Day of The Community Foundation for Northern Virginia

The following interview is part of the Philanthropy Roundtable’s “Free to Give” series highlighting the impact that philanthropy can have when Americans have the right to give freely to the causes and communities they care about most. Learn more here.


“Our mission at the Community Foundation for Northern Virginia is to grow philanthropy to respond to need, seed innovation and lead and convene the community. That takes on a couple forms, one of which is civic leadership and working together to broadly better our community.”

“Part of it is also, as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, we run our discretionary grant cycles that address many of the major needs here by funding direct service-providing organizations throughout our region. At the same time, we partner with individual donors and donor-advised funds, to support their philanthropic goals and help match those goals with organizations in our community, making their investments meaningful and impactful here at home.”

“We’ve been a nonprofit deeply invested in the community for over 40 years. So, we like to think we know a little bit about Northern Virginia – that’s core to our job connecting donors to our work and partnering to make this community a more sustainable, equitable place for everyone.”

“Around the time the COVID-19 crisis started, we unveiled our COVID-19 Response Fund for Northern Virginia with the intent to raise funds to support those who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.”

“We have raised more than $2 million at this point. It has been incredible to see. It was money that came in and went out, right away, without us taking any fees on this work. It was the first time we had dealt with rapid response grantmaking before, so it was new territory for us. Donations for the fund came from all over the community with a significant portion coming from donor-advised funds.”

“We knew how important and urgent many of the needs were. The first round was dedicated to access to food. The second round went to basic needs and emergency financial assistance. The third went to access to mental health and dental health services for low-income residents in the community. We’ve kept the rounds going, hitting the many different needs of the community.”

“It was also a really exciting way for us to educate and work alongside people who have donor-advised funds with us. Those with donor-advised funds saw the work we were doing and were very willing to contribute. They really looked to respond to urgent needs in the most meaningful way possible.”

“I’ve definitely seen an increased amount of giving and an increase in thoughtfulness around giving. We’ve seen donors who have not previously supported our discretionary grant cycles choose to give to our COVID-19 Response Fund. They have reached out directly to me and said, “Hey, I have this much money to give, can you please help me identify some nonprofits in the area that are specifically working in the mental health space,” or some other area they’re interested in giving to.”

“The positive benefits and the ramifications of our philanthropy have been multiplied through the community because our donors chose to give through their funds.”

“When people establish a donor-advised fund, whether it’s at a community foundation like us, or anywhere else, that money is already set aside for charitable purposes. When that money is already in there, it’s ready to go. It just needs to be directed to where the funds are going to be most meaningful.”

“What I’ve seen over these past few months is more money from donor-advised funds can get where it’s needed quicker. The community foundation experienced a record-breaking year in grantmaking in 2020, awarding more than $13 million in grants and scholarships from our donor-advised and discretionary funds.”

“But it’s not only about giving quickly, but giving wisely, thoughtfully and intentionally. When people who have donor-advised funds with us see there is a need, we also help answer the question, “Where should it go?” I think that is a really, really important thing our partnerships with donor-advised funds have allowed us to do.”

“There’s this assumption there are a lot of donors who give money to a donor-advised fund, get the charitable tax benefit and then let it sit there for eternity. As a community foundation, we’ve taken several measures to be proactive on this front – from working really hard to establish rapport so we can act as a valuable resource in these relationships to including an inactive fund policy in order to ensure donations can’t sit in a fund forever.”

“It’s been really encouraging for us to see the community rally together, and especially our network of donor-advised fund holders, around helping the broader community at this time. They’ve been really conscious they have the means and a responsibility to help alleviate the difficulties and challenges in the community.”

– Josiah Day, director of Donor Relations at The Community Foundation for Northern Virginia in Oakton, Virginia

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