When Stephen Hammersley worked overseas in a previous job, he was struck by the resourcefulness and positive attitude of the people he met. It was not something he had come across in Britain. "Wrongly, it seemed to me that we didn't have that here," he says. "My experience in the UK was not of a particularly diverse group of people."
When the vacancy at the Community Foundation Network arose, Hammersley started researching the organisation and came across the same kind of people that had impressed him abroad: ordinary people doing extraordinary things, making a difference where they lived and getting on with their lives.
"The thing that struck me was the nonsense of the funding regime," he says. "One woman had to go to 42 different organisations to ensure she could run her community centre. My sense was that community foundations were the perfect vehicles to address the problem."
Hammersley also believed that the network's potential was huge. In the US, community foundations have endowments worth more than $30bn (£14.7bn); here, community foundation endowments are worth 150m in total, although that is up from £90m when Hammersley took over at the foundation in 2004. "More wealth is created than ever before, and people don't have the same aspiration to leave it to their children as they did a few years ago," he says. The potential for private giving is therefore enormous, he feels.
The community foundation model, which encourages local philanthropy, appeals to the Government. The Boost Initiative, led by the Community Foundation for Merseyside on behalf of the network, and which aims to unlock dormant charitable assets, recently entrusted the network with the management of dormant trust funds worth hundreds of millions of pounds. It is an endorsement of community foundations' work, and Hammersley can take credit for it. He has raised the profile of the network and established it as a reference in grant making.
Hammersley also has his sights set on the £50m fund to build community fund endowments, announced in this year's third sector review. "What endowment funds or challenge grants do is provide a trigger, an incentive, for people to get involved," he says.
His ambition is for each of the network's 50 foundations to have a £50m endowment fund in 20 years' time. "I won't be there in 20 years, so we have to get on the trajectory that will allow us to get there," he says. The endowment fund will kick-start that process.
The challenge will be to get people interested. Community foundations might be about local philanthropy, but most of the wealth created in the UK comes from the south east. The network's task will be to promote a sense of community around whatever projects donors want to support.
"I think the notion of community is much more complex than it was 10 years ago," Hammersley says. "Technology plays a big part in this: it's all about Facebook and MySpace. Perhaps we should make our stories more accessible that way so donors feel a sense of connection."
Hammersley is conscious that the new generation of philanthropists want to give time as well as money, and that their concerns might differ from those of their forebears. This will require adjustments by community foundations.
He might not have another 20 years, but Hammersley knows his focus will have to be on ensuring that community foundations are fit for purpose and can deliver great service to donors and the extraordinary people they seek to support.
2004: Chief executive, Community Foundation Network
2000: Trading director, Tearfund
1997: Head of marketing, Barclays Offshore Solutions
1994: Manager, Knightsbridge International Banking Centre