Local giving boosts community life

Via’s Philanthropy & Cooperation event in March showed that community foundations, active associations, citizens and local philanthropists are increasingly involved in community life in Czech cities and towns. Most of the initiatives seek to make communities more vibrant places, connect residents and stimulate their interest in their immediate neighborhood. 

Eva Vychodilová, coordinator of the Černošice Community Fund, was one of the panelists at the Via event. We followed up with her to learn how people are supporting community life in the town of Černošice (Prague-West district), which currently has approximately 7,300 inhabitants.

When and why was the Černošice Fund established?

The Černošice Community Fund was established in 2019, shortly after the generosity of local companies, business owners, and dozens of citizens made it possible to build a long-needed sports hall in Černošice. The current mayor of Černošice, Filip Kořínek, was also instrumental in the development of the Fund. The Fund supports sports, cultural, neighbourhood, children, family and environmental projects as well as events that support the development of community life.

Two of the community events supported by the Fund: left, folk costume heritage, right, summer outdoor cinema.

What was crucial to the development of the Fund and who helped make it happen?

Several residents of Černošice wanted to build on the success of the sports hall. This shared interest was important. And then the other important element was that we began working with Via Foundation, which helped us follow the legal requirements to establish the fund and now handles the administration of the Fund.

I can’t imagine that we would have to manage all the administration around grants, disbursement and agreements with donors and grantees. Working with VIA Foundation is very helpful in this respect. We couldn’t do it alone, we don’t have the people to do it, and we don’t know how to do all the paperwork. I am so glad that we have Via’s staff helping us, they understand all these processes. They also share good practices from other towns with community foundations or funds, give us feedback and advice on how to proceed.

How well are you able to communicate what you do and attract new supporters and grant applicants?

It’s been gradual. We actively communicate with people from local associations, interesting people in the community and potential donors both directly in person and by phone, email, Facebook or through our website, and we meet with them regularly. The Černošice town newsletter is another way – we write about what we do and introduce the founding members of the Fund and grantees in the newsletter.

A recent interview attracted the attention of two local philanthropists who donated CZK 45,000 ($2,100) to the Fund. We invite all our donors to become engaged in the running of the Fund and take part in the decision-making process. And our grantees help us promote the Fund in their communication materials and on social media.

We also put up posters on municipal notice boards when we have a grant call. It’s often the same people applying again and again for grants, but that’s common in a small town. We then look for other active people or projects that we would like to support.

How do the Fund and the municipality of Černošice work together?

The Fund and the municipality have a good relationship. Two members of the Fund’s board of directors, who are also founding members, are currently in charge of the town, which makes communication with the town hall easier. On the other hand, it is often difficult to explain to citizens that we are an independent Fund, created by private citizens, not as an activity of the town hall. This is particularly tricky because the current mayor was one of the founders of the Fund and he supported it for a long time with his own resources. We try to communicate this fact so that it is clear that the Fund and the municipality are not one and the same.

But of course we couldn’t manage the Fund if we didn’t have a collaborative relationship with the municipality. This is especially important when grantees submit projects that will affect public space. We know right away what can be done and what can’t, and this is essential for approving grant applications. The municipality also lets us publish articles in the newsletter for free and puts up posters.

What are the biggest challenges to nurturing engagement in community life in Černošice?

Černošice is very close to Prague, so for a long time it was just a bedroom community for many residents. A lot of people commute to Prague every day for work and often eat there and go to social and cultural events. When they get home, they shut themselves up in their houses or gardens. People are also generally less engaged after covid. But I think both things are gradually changing. We would like people to know that there are also great things to do in Černošice beyond the popular biking paths and the Berounka River. We would also like to connect our three very separate neighborhoods, perhaps through community-wide events.

What do you consider to be your biggest success so far?

In the four years since the Fund was founded, we have supported more than 30 different projects with a total of CZK 700,000 ($32,900). We’re glad that we’ve managed to get activities back on track after the covid hiatus. And, in our current grant call, we have ten new applications that promise further vibrancy.

Last October we held a meeting for friends of the Fund and all supporters of local community life who care about their town – whether they are people who run activities or donate to support these activities. There were some lovely thoughts and concrete ideas about how to rekindle the community spirit that brought local people together to build the sports hall. Now we are looking for a new flagship project to whet people’s appetite to get involved. We initiate and co-organize a number of projects ourselves. It is certainly important that there is a public discourse. We want to continue to support and expand that. At the same time, we are always looking for new donors so that the Fund is not always financed by the same narrow group of people.

Above: left, Eva Vychodilová, right, Mayor Filip Kořínek, both speaking at the Via philanthropy event.

How did you like Via’s Philanthropy and Cooperation event?

On behalf of the whole Fund, thank you very much for inviting us. We appreciate it very much and the event was a real success. I personally especially liked hearing from the other participants of our panel – Pramene Luhačovice and the Ústi Community Foundation – were inspiring and I hope we will continue to exchange experiences with them.

Via Foundation believes that connecting different sectors, professions and people, as well as partnerships between philanthropists, companies, non-profit organizations and the public sector are key to enabling positive changes in Czech society. The Philanthropy & Cooperation event was a case in point. During the evening, panelists discussed the development of trust between NGOs and local government as well as the importance of supporting local philanthropists for community development. The panelists included: Eva Vychodilová, Černošice Community Fund, Filip Kořínek, Mayor of Černošice and philanthropist, Kateřina Valešová, Director of the Ústí Community Foundation, Michal Košek, CEO of eMan and philanthropist, Magdaléna Hruška, Director of Pramen Luhačovice Foundation and philanthropist, and František Dostálek, native of Luhačovice and philanthropist.