What is Asset-Based Community Development?

Brain drain, population decrease, infrastructure woes dominate headlines about rural America, but this narrative misses the heart of rural towns by focusing on deficits. The truth is our community assets far outweigh deficits. Understanding this truth is the key to building vibrant hometowns.

Communities like Imperial have discovered this for themselves.

“Sometimes we think we should keep small-town life a secret,” joked Imperial native Tiffany Reeves, in a 2017 NCF story. “We don’t want too many people moving in.”

Friends, family, and community involvement; opportunities to connect with people and give back; to have your children grow up in safe neighborhoods with quality schools — these are assets that have traditionally attracted young adults to rural communities. Today, and in the future, people choosing our hometowns will have additional expectations.

With this in mind, the leaders of the Imperial Community Foundation Fund are working to make Imperial attractive, welcoming and fun for a younger generation of citizens.

Imperial leaders took to heart the driving philosophy of Nebraska Community Foundation—asset-based community development, or ABCD for short.

What is ABCD?

Asset-Based Community Development flips the script on philanthropy. Instead of the common deficit-based approach often embraced by nonprofits, ABCD focuses on the strengths communities already possess. NCF’s premise is that every community has more potential resources than anyone person knows.

John. L McKnight and John P. Kretzmann receive credit for the philosophy, which they identified through years of researching how communities succeed and fail. They collected their observations in the 1993 book, Building Communities from the Inside Out, which made an international impact. In the book—and following research—they outline how communities that rely on existing assets like residents’ skills, local associations, local history, and more can find success in their own way that best fits their place.

“Creative neighborhood leaders across the country have begun to recognize this hard truth, and have shifted their practices accordingly,” the pair wrote in the book. “They are discovering that wherever there are effective community development efforts, those efforts are based upon an understanding, or map, of the community’s assets, capacities and abilities. For it is clear that even the poorest neighborhood is a place where individuals and organizations represent resources upon which to rebuild. The key to neighborhood regeneration, then, is to locate all of the available local assets, to begin connecting them with one another in ways that multiply their power and effectiveness, and to begin harnessing those local institutions that are not yet available for local development purposes.”

At its core, ABCD tasks communities with cultivating their communities from within. Nebraska Community Foundation took the message to heart.

What are assets?

Assets are not strictly financial under an ABCD framework. When NCF’s coordinators involve asset mapping exercises in their fund trainings, participants find many of their places’ strengths are overlooked. Here are some of the assets Imperial Community Foundation Fund volunteers identified during a 2019 asset-mapping session:


  • Local fire and rescue services
  • Local law enforcement


  • Enders Reservoir State Recreation Area
  • Champion Mills State Park
  • Hunting and fishing


  • Chase County Historical Museum
  • Chase County Historical Society


  • Smoking on Broadway festival
  • Chase County Fair


  • Local news outlets
  • Social groups
  • Local social media pages


  • FFA projects
  • Ag Safety Day
  • 4-H groups
  • University of Nebraska Extension


  • Local ministerial association
  • Churches
  • Christmas Community dinner


  • Business district
  • Skate park


  • Creative community
  • Welcoming community
  • Diversity of interests in community


  • Local hospital
  • Fitness centers
  • Pool


  • Local artists
  • Art Council
  • Arts in school


  • Banks
  • Imperial Community Foundation Fund
  • Hospital foundation


  • Mid-Plains Community College extended campus
  • Book clubs
  • Local schools


  • Numerous local organizations
  • New resident welcome packets

Think about your hometown’s assets. Write them down. Aim to be inclusive. Are there members of your community that don’t have a seat at the table? Make sure they’re included, because you never know what skills or ideas your neighbors can share. Once you get started, you’ll likely find there’s more to your community than meets the eye.

This is just an overview of the power of ABCD. Nebraska Community Foundation offers a bevy of information on community building in the NCF Classroom. Or browse our library of community success stories and discover your next inspiration. And, as always, reach out to us by phone at 402.323.7330 or send us a message.

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