Networks for Education Equity Cohort: Supporting education networks to better reach their goals

Networks for Education Equity Cohort: Supporting education networks to better reach their goals

THE CHALLENGE

Help education networks adapt and evolve to ensure their knowledge and resources are reaching the educators who need it most

THE OUTCOME

A cohort of education networks with relationships, resources, and strategies for reaching educators to help advance equitable education outcomes for students

OUR APPROACH

Education networks (e.g., professional associations of education professionals) have long been a source of knowledge and support for education professionals, but for many networks, it has been difficult to keep up with the pace of change in the field and ensure their knowledge and resources are reaching those who need it most. To address this challenge, Community Wealth Partners facilitated a community of practice for eight education networks focused on supporting better outcomes for Black and Latino students and students experiencing poverty. The community of practice, which was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as part of its K-12 Education Strategy, provided a space for networks to learn from peers, pilot new approaches, and inspire further learning and collective action.

​The community of practice was designed with an intentional theory of change that aimed to create impact in three areas:

  • Relationship and network building because trusting relationships are the bedrock for learning and collaboration among participants
  • Using new approaches, tools, and resources to support organizations in adopting new practices
  • Collaboration and field building — which helps strengthen the field more broadly

Values that were central to the design and facilitation were co-creation and prioritizing racial equity. Community of practice members played a vocal role in designing the cadence and content of community of practice offerings. The community of practice prioritized racial equity in different ways — participants focused on supporting practitioners of color in their work through their individual projects, some content offerings helped build community members’ racial equity knowledge and competency, and the ultimate goal for the community of practice named a focus on the success of Black and Latino students and students experiencing poverty.

The community catalyzed

fieldwide change.

RESULTS

After two years of working together, the community of practice yielded outcomes in each of the areas outlined in the theory of change.

  • Relationship and network building: The community of practice provided space for participants to learn from different perspectives and experiment alongside one another. Participants say they now better understand the work and expertise of one another’s organizations and have a deeper roster of colleagues to call on in the future for problem solving and innovative ideas. This supports connection and continued sharing and learning beyond the end of the formal community of practice.“I created relationships with people I would not have met had I not participated in the community of practice,” said Paul Gray, immediate past president of NCSM. “For me as an individual, that’s helped me grow—particularly as a white male engaging in equity work and wanting to do so in a meaningful and respectful way. I’ve been able to channel those learnings into my work leading NCSM, and it will likely impact future work that I’m not yet aware of.”
  • Using new approaches, tools, and resources: Through peer learning and access to outside speakers, resources, and coaching support, participants gained access to new ideas, perspectives, tools, and frameworks. While these resources covered a range of topics, the overarching focus was tactics, tools, and frameworks to support networks in strengthening member connection and engagement. This supported the ultimate vision of helping education networks find new ways to share knowledge with practitioners, so they can support better outcomes for Black and Latino students and students experiencing poverty. Examples include working to diversify membership and leadership, creating opportunities for reciprocal engagement among members, and using new approaches and tools for member feedback to get more member input on the design of offerings.

“We’ve begun to use [Converge Impact Network’s] ideas around levels of engagement,” said Angia Kinney, program manger of Black Principals Network. “We’ve now put in more effort to tend to those who only prefer low level of engagement, by making our emails robust with resources, job/grant/program opportunities, and highlights instead of just pushing out an email that advocates only to get people to come to an event. Looking at levels of engagement also inspired us to also have a way to collect resources from the community that we can share with the network.”

  • Collaboration and field building: Extending the ripples of impact beyond participating individuals and organizations, the community of practice has also inspired collaboration between participating organizations, strengthening the field of education networks more broadly. These collaborations have taken the form of participating in one another’s organizational offerings, writing for one another’s publications, and jointly presenting at prominent education conferences.82% of survey respondents say they have established partnerships or collaborations with other organizations in the community of practice.“I’ve developed a personal friendship and professional alliance with Katey Arrington from NCSM,” said Kaylen Tucker, associate executive director, communications, at the National Association of Elementary School Principals. “We teamed up to present at SXSW EDU and have plans to continue working together. I’m working with the ladies from Benjamin Banneker Association to build our content for NAESP about culturally competent math leadership. They’ve signed on to write a three-part series for NAESP’s Principal Brent Jackson from California Math Project also contributed an article about math talk to Principal magazine.”

While the community of practice engaged only a subset of the field of education networks, the experience led to changes in approach for participating organizations, stronger relationships that are likely to endure beyond the community of practice, and knowledge and insights that can benefit the broader field seeking to advance equity in education. Together these outcomes help education networks evolve how they share knowledge with practitioners so that they are better equipped to support education outcomes for Black and Latino students and students experiencing poverty.  

RESOURCES

Community of practice participants shared their learning through contributing to blog posts, case studies, and in-depth thought leadership. Select examples are linked below:

 

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ACT for Alexandria: Engaging community members in setting strategic priorities and developing a strategic plan

ACT for Alexandria: Engaging community members in setting strategic priorities and developing a strategic plan

THE CHALLENGE

Design a strategic plan centering lived experience and shared decision-making power.

THE OUTCOME

Community-designed vision statement, a refined mission statement, and new, community-designed strategies to support community well-being and community support.

OUR APPROACH

When ACT for Alexandria (ACT), a community foundation in Alexandria, Virginia, decided to develop a new strategic plan in 2022, staff and board members knew they wanted to engage community members in the process to help ensure the new strategy focused on the issues that were having the biggest impact on residents’ lives. ACT partnered with Community Wealth
Partners and affiliate consultant Dax-Devlon Ross to design and facilitate a strategic planning process with broad community impact.

We worked with the community foundation to form a diverse Community Listening and Strategic Planning team comprised of Alexandria, VA, residents with lived experience (race immigration, and poverty), foundation board members and staff, representatives from community-based organizations, and civic leaders. The foundation provided the eight residential members of the planning team with a stipend and reimbursement for childcare and transportation expenses.

The team engaged 300 Alexandria residents in interviews, focus groups, and a survey to understand the community’s vision for the future of Alexandria and how ACT can help. Through that process, affordable housing emerged as the biggest priority, followed by education, economic success, and racial equity.

To develop strategies, we interviewed community leaders with expertise in these priority areas to better understand these issues in Alexandria and possible roles ACT could play. We also conducted funder research to understand the likelihood of funding from different sources.

RESULTS

The new strategy includes a new, community-designed vision statement, a refined mission statement, and new, community-designed strategies to support community well-being and community support. In response to the new strategy, ACT has launched The ACT Housing Fund, which helps ensure Alexandrians have access to or can stay in safe, affordable housing.

 

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Greater Rochester Health Foundation: Engaging Parents in Shaping a Foundation’s Strategy

Greater Rochester Health Foundation: Engaging Parents in Shaping a Foundation’s Strategy

THE CHALLENGE

Redefine strategy for the foundation’s largest program to center equity. 

THE OUTCOME

An equity-focused strategy and new ways of working that authentically engage community members.

OUR APPROACH

When the Greater Rochester Health Foundation hired Community Wealth Partners, the foundation was committed to centering equity in its largest program, Healthy Futures, which works to improve the health and well-being of children ages 0-8 in the region. The foundation sought our assistance in developing a strategy for the program and engaging community members in shaping that strategy. Through the process and our research, they concluded that it was essential to center a racial equity lens. 

Together, we worked to make sure the people engaged in shaping the strategy represented the racial diversity of the community. We worked with local partners to help us connect with parents, community leaders, and young people. This was critical for being able to achieve authentic engagement with families in the community.  

Once we had communities engaged, we collected and disaggregated demographic data to get a deeper understanding of how perspectives varied by race, ethnicity, and neighborhood. When we noticed that parents serving on a steering committee that made recommendations to the foundation were quieter than other voices in that group, we organized participants based on role (parents, nonprofit leaders, foundation staff) so that parents could more openly share their perspectives.  The input parents gave helped the foundation more deeply understand how systemic racial equities impact the health of young children and how the foundation could more authentically engage parents in its work.  

We also supported the foundation in reflecting on how they want to center racial equity in their internal operations, grantmaking, and community engagement going forward by offering a framework for them to assess current practice and prioritize next steps. Throughout the engagement, the foundation made these questions a top priority and devoted significant staff time and resources to this work.  

Connecting with peers

to expand impact

RESULTS

Today the foundation has moved from centering parents in one program to integrating a parent-centered approach throughout the foundation’s culture, operations, and DNA. As Danette Campbell-Bell, Senior Program Officer, shared in a webinar, “The foundation is taking a back seat and allowing stakeholders to drive what we do.” 

 

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Newman’s Own Foundation: Helping a cohort of nonprofits advance learning and practice to expand access to fresh foods and nutrition education

Newman’s Own Foundation: Helping a cohort of nonprofits advance learning and practice to expand access to fresh foods and nutrition education

THE CHALLENGE

Despite their common missions, nonprofits working to increase access to fresh food and nutrition education in underserved communities had limited interaction with each other.

THE OUTCOME

Participation in a peer learning cohort allowed organizations to build relationships and trust, which led to collaboration and shared learning in areas such as fundraising, policy strategy, communications, and hiring.

OUR APPROACH

When the Newman’s Own Foundation recognized that grantees working to advance a common cause had limited interaction with each other, it saw an opportunity for expanding their impact. In 2014, the foundation announced $10 million in grants to dozens of nonprofits working to increase access to fresh food and nutrition education in underserved communities. The foundation earmarked $4.5 million of that to fund capacity building and a peer learning cohort for a subset of six grantees. Newman’s Own Foundation hired Community Wealth Partners to design and launch the cohort.

While we supported the design and facilitation at the start of the cohort, the goal was ultimately for us — the consultants — to step back so participants could have ownership of the group and run it with administrative support from the foundation. To do this, we created ample space for building relationships and trust among cohort members. We helped guide the group toward a shared vision of success and helped them put norms and practices in place such as processes for selecting learning topics, rotating facilitation, and hosting at one another’s sites. Ultimately, the cohort chose four areas for learning and development, all tied to organizational capacity — fundraising, board development, succession planning, and employee performance management and development.

We also worked in close partnership with the foundation to help them reflect on the role they want to play in fostering collaboration and learning among their grantees. During the first year of the program, the foundation articulated three major roles:

  1. Investor — financially supporting the cohort and individual grantee needs
  2. Connector — catalyzing, but not forcing, connections among members
  3. Learner — learning alongside cohort members and providing support to the cohort

Connecting with peers

to expand impact

RESULTS

An evaluation of the cohort found that the participant-led approach allowed cohort members to organically form relationships, build trust, and openly share strengths and challenges. All cohort members reported that they implemented new ideas and practices as a result of the learning that took place. The learning cohort also fostered greater collaboration among participants. For example, members have introduced one another to other funders and have formed partnerships to pilot new programs.

Newman’s Own Foundation has also created additional cohorts following this model to foster learning and collaboration among other groups of grantees. (For a brief article about the formation of this cohort, read Funding Without Prescription in the Stanford Social Innovation Review.)

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Arizona Community Foundation: Redefining how a community foundation creates impact

Arizona Community Foundation: Redefining how a community foundation creates impact

THE CHALLENGE

Articulate a community foundation’s impact and make the case to donors

THE OUTCOME

A new impact model led to changes in donors’ knowledge, mindsets, and behaviors

OUR APPROACH

By standard measures, the Arizona Community Foundation (ACF) had been successful. Over 10 years, assets under management grew from $400 million to just over $1 billion. Yet assets under management failed to fully capture the story of impact on donors, nonprofits, and their communities. At the same time, ACF, like other community foundations, felt increasing pressure from critics of donor-advised funds (DAFs) on one side, and commercial financial institutions building a massive DAF businesses on the other. ACF needed a better way to tell their story of impact and document that case to donors.

ACF engaged Community Wealth Partners to help create a new model for articulating impact. To begin, we interviewed staff and board members and conducted research to develop an impact model that would show ACF’s vision for building a culture of philanthropy. This model described how the community foundation worked with donors and grantees, causing each party to grow in ways that resulted in greater impact.

Community foundations’ greatest value proposition is that they are deeply rooted in the community and they assist donors in deepening their connection and impact in the community. The community foundation impact model created from this work (see below) has helped other community foundations understand what motivates donors to give and discover ways to support donors in creating greater impact through their giving.

Once the impact model was defined, we tested for evidence of this culture of philanthropy among ACF’s donors and grantees. We interviewed a small sample of donors (50) and probed for changes in their knowledge, mindsets, or giving behaviors since starting their philanthropy with ACF. With grantees, we sought to understand how ACF donors’ support – both financial and non-financial – helped further their missions, while acknowledging that the impact of a single donor’s support can’t normally be measured.

A new model

of impact

EARLY RESULTS

Our research found early evidence of a culture of philanthropy and affirmed ACF’s unique value proposition. Donors who worked with ACF relationship managers on defining their philanthropic goals were connected with nonprofits that focused on donors’ specific interest areas. Donors became more engaged with these nonprofits and supported them with financial resources, access to their networks, and volunteering, thus becoming more connected with the specific needs of the nonprofit and producing a greater impact through a stronger relationship.

A second round of interviews with donors revealed important insights about the ways donors’ knowledge, mindsets, and behaviors changed as a result of their engagement with the community foundation. The study showed that by giving through ACF, most donors increased their knowledge of social issues (70%), while a smaller group changed their understanding of a problem (36%) or shifted their giving behavior (45%). For example, after seeing the flexibility that unrestricted gifts afforded nonprofits, one donor decided to give only unrestricted gifts. These donor interviews also highlighted ways ACF could better support donors in their philanthropic giving. These insights led the foundation to create a team of relationship managers and technology managers to streamline processes and build better tools to segment their donors and provide tailored support specific to their individual needs. For example, the team captured philanthropic interest areas on donor profiles and built nonprofit experiences for donors, including inviting them to specific programs the foundation created around those interest areas. A 2020 Center for Effective Philanthropy Donor Perception Report highlighted substantial improvements in ACF donor satisfaction compared to the results from 2015 and 2012 reports, with donors providing their highest-ever ratings for the majority of measures in the report.

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Communications Network: Reinventing a strategy and business model to achieve greater impact

The Communications Network: Reinventing a strategy and business model to achieve greater impact

THE CHALLENGE

A network created to serve communications professionals within foundations had questions about its future.

THE OUTCOME

A reimagined network with a bolder vision for advancing change that expanded opportunities for membership, programming, and revenue.

OUR APPROACH

In 1979, The Communications Network was founded to provide resources and guidance to help advance strategic communications practice within philanthropy. After three decades of serving communications staff inside foundations, the network found itself at an inflection point amid a rapidly changing communications environment. In 2011-12, after gaining a solid financial footing after several years of turmoil, the network partnered with Community Wealth Partners to develop a strategic plan for its next phase of growth and impact.

Community Wealth Partners helped the network rethink its operating model and approaches to raising revenue. This involved working directly with various stakeholders, including representatives from some of the largest foundations in the nation. Going into this process, the network’s board leadership realized they wanted the network to have a bigger impact in the field, but they were unsure what this might look like. Ultimately, they decided to broaden the network’s focus beyond serving the needs of communications professionals inside philanthropy to include communicators from high-performing nonprofits, accelerating efforts to elevate the role of communications in the social sector to support local, national, and global change initiatives.

The execution of this broader vision prompted the hiring of a new leader to guide the network into this next stage after the prior leader had capably guided the network through a financial crisis several years earlier. This new leader (the sole staff member at the time) and the board worked to expand participation in the network, which created new opportunities for revenue. The network initially experienced challenges designing programming that would appeal to both groups – foundation and other nonprofit communicators. Over time, new members became more engaged and offered programming suggestions covering a wider array of new topics to advance knowledge and practice. The Communications Network now cultivates and develops future leaders through local groups in 18 cities, promotes greater social sector investment in communications, and offers an array of learning offerings for network participants through webinars, publications, and post-conference social outreach.

A bold vision

for greater impact

EARLY RESULTS

The network’s revised strategy has been transformative for the organization. The board has transitioned from a hands-on, grassroots board to a governing board overseeing the strategic direction set by the CEO and carried out by a staff of four. Network membership has grown from about 400 individuals in 2014 to more than 2,000 in 2020. At the same time, annual revenue has grown from $650,000 to $2 million and has shifted from being heavily grant dependent to relying primarily on earned income, with the largest sources of revenue being conference registrations and sponsorships. Today, The Communications Network’s annual conference attracts nearly 1,000 participants (compared to 300 in 2012).

The network assesses its impact by measuring member engagement and satisfaction – both of which rate highly – as well as assessing its influence in the field through communications and thought leadership. Anecdotally, the network is seeing greater emphasis on and increased investment in communications among many social sector leaders, a signal that the network is indeed helping elevate the role of communications as a tool for social change.

“The network has become a leading voice for the power of smart communication to make the world a better place,” said Kevin Corcoran, who joined the board in 2011 and guided the most recent strategic planning process. “We are the place changemakers come together to find inspiration, to hear the best ideas in the field, to collaborate and share with each other. Our work with Community Wealth Partners and the board’s decision to hire our CEO, Sean Gibbons, were real turning points.”

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Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas, Inc: Assessing the Impact of Capacity-Building Supports

Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas: Assessing the Impact of Capacity-Building Supports

THE CHALLENGE

Understand whether the technical assistance support a foundation provided to a subset of grantees helped the organizations address sustainability concerns and achieve greater impact

THE OUTCOME

Evaluation findings that can help chart the foundation’s course for future investments in capacity building and offer practical guidance for other grantmakers

OUR APPROACH

In 2014, Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas, Inc. established Sí Texas: Social Innovation for a Healthy South Texas through a Social Innovation Fund grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service. The grant awarded Methodist Healthcare Ministries a total of $50 million dollars over five years to stimulate local solutions to improving physical and behavioral health, specifically targeting co-occurrences of diabetes and depression. Sí Texas funds eight South Texas organizations to implement Integrated Behavioral Health services. Through this approach, Methodist Healthcare Ministries seeks to scale strategies that are making a difference in advancing health outcomes for residents.

As the initiative got underway, Methodist Healthcare Ministries realized that providing capacity-building support for grantees was going to be critical to Sí Texas’ success. In 2016, the organization developed a capacity-building program for grantees to become stronger organizations better equipped to advance health outcomes in their communities. The initial design of the program included three components: peer-to-peer connections, a series of trainings designed to help organizations develop skills and expertise that would improve patient care and outcomes, and targeted technical assistance to address each grantee’s specific needs.

In 2018, Methodist Healthcare Ministries partnered with Community Wealth Partners to evaluate the capacity-building program, with an emphasis on the technical assistance portion. The evaluation had five goals:

  1. Assess the extent to which the program was implemented as intended and identify any best practices related to the implementation.
  2. Ascertain whether the organizations are better positioned to sustain their integrated behavioral health models as a result of the program.
  3. Ascertain whether the organizations are better positioned for sustainability as a result of the program.
  4. Identify recommendations for strengthening the program.
  5. Explore potential implications for measuring long-term outcomes and impact of the program.

The qualitative evaluation included interviews with five out of six technical assistance providers, 27 members of grantee and partner organizations who participated in technical assistance activities, and Methodist Healthcare Ministries staff. We developed mid-point and summary reports to share findings with the foundation along the way.

As the work evolved, the capacity-building team identified an additional goal for the engagement. The team saw an opportunity to use the evaluation findings to make a stronger case for the value of capacity building across the foundation and with other funders, and they asked us to help them make the case. In response to this, we facilitated a meaning-making conversation with leadership and staff and other Texas funders to share what we learned about nonprofits’ capacity-building needs and how funders can best provide support. We also wrote an article for publication in a philanthropic journal on behalf of Methodist Healthcare Ministries to share reflections from the evaluation.

Stronger organizations

for better health outcomes

EARLY RESULTS

Overall, grantees expressed satisfaction with the coordination of the capacity-building program. Some of the short-term outcomes reported included strategic plans to guide future work, enhanced use of data to inform decision making, and improved ability to lead and manage teams. Grantees reported not only that they learned new techniques and skills, but the capacity-building engagement also yielded new materials – such as strategic plans or standard operating procedures – to guide future work. In addition, grantees said they now have outcomes they can use to frame their impact to funders to help them generate more resources to sustain their organizations.

In addition, the capacity-building team said they thought the opportunity to share the evaluation findings more broadly and engage in conversation with other funders helped raise awareness of the value of capacity building among leadership at the foundation. The team members observed more mentions of capacity building among board members and senior leadership and were hopeful that it would ultimately translate into sustained investments in capacity-building support for grantees.

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An affordable housing and community development nonprofit: Assessing a new approach to modernizing business and operating models across a network

Partnering for Success: Assessing a new approach to modernizing business and operating models across a network

THE CHALLENGE

Understand the effectiveness of a pilot program happening across a network segment of 44 sites

THE OUTCOME

Evidence of the project’s success led to an expansion of the program and contributed to the ultimate goal of modernizing practices across an entire network of nonprofit organizations

OUR APPROACH

Our client, a congressionally chartered, nonprofit leader in the affordable housing and community development field, serves a network of nearly 250 member organizations. Early in 2012, leaders in many of these network organizations recognized the need to develop a new way of doing business in the face of decreasing traditional funding sources and an evolving affordable housing and community development landscape. To help network members modernize their business and operating models, systems, and practices, the partner launched a pilot program, the Sustainable Homeownership Project (SHP). Beginning in 2012, the multi-phase pilot program led participants through a process of strengthening operational processes, diversifying revenue, improving customer experience, boosting data capacity, and more.

To understand whether the SHP pilot was working for the 44 network members testing it, Community Wealth Partners was engaged to develop a performance measurement system for the program. For many of the participating network members, this was the first time they collected, analyzed, and made decisions based on data on their services’ cost per customer, the number of sales leads they maintained, how frequently they were referred by customers, and other metrics commonly used in businesses. We partnered with the organizations to expand their capacity to understand the data, identify and address anomalies, and develop a baseline against which they could compare their growth over time. This opened the organizations up to new ways of thinking about their work and how they could better serve their communities in a more financially sustainable way.

In addition to working with network members, we also worked closely with the key staff on the SHP team to identify performance indicators that would provide regular insight into how this new approach was being adopted by the pilot organizations and how those organizations’ performance was improving as a result. We then worked with the SHP team to conduct surveys, interviews, and focus groups in order to collect qualitative and quantitative data from participating network members and technical assistance providers. We analyzed the data and identified key lessons learned to inform changes to the SHP program design.

To support the SHP team’s evolving needs as the project advanced toward a mainstream model, we served as a close thought partner to the team, conducted research on top-of-mind issues, shared our ongoing findings to help the SHP team learn, and helped them use those learnings to adapt the pilot design. We advised the team on how they could use the performance data to clearly articulate the program’s return on investment and build a business case for growing and scaling the program after the pilot ended. Using the learnings from our performance measurement work, the SHP team began a coordinated effort with their internal corporate data team to continue tracking and evaluating the results of the expanding program.

Modernizing practices

across a network

EARLY RESULTS

By the end of 2017, the network members participating in SHP saw a 43% reduction in the cost to serve each customer, a 95% increase in the number of customers served, and a 64% increase in the number of people buying new homes. The SHP team refined the design of SHP and used results like these to prove the program’s value and success, leading our client to expand the program to a mainstream model to serve more network members.

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Wells Fargo Regional Foundation: Building capacity for community change

Wells Fargo Regional Foundation: Building capacity for community change

THE CHALLENGE

Equip grantees to better sustain their impact and collaborate effectively

THE OUTCOME

Cohort-based capacity-building programs designed around grantee input

OUR APPROACH

The Wells Fargo Regional Foundation provides long-term support to nonprofits that are leading neighborhood revitalization initiatives—often for 11+ years—yet revitalizing a neighborhood can take decades. In order to ensure that those nonprofits have the skills and financial resources needed to sustain initiatives long enough to see the change neighborhoods wanted, the foundation partnered with Community Wealth Partners to help grantees build their capacity.

To understand what type of capacity-building support grantees most needed, Community Wealth Partners began with a listening exercise in 2010 where we heard a desire from grantees to more effectively maintain their impact over the long term. We then designed a program—the Sustainability Initiative—to help grantees think about what they need to sustain their initiatives, both in terms of finances and other areas such as a clearly articulated vision and adaptability to changes in community needs. During the Sustainability Initiative, we led cohorts of five or six grantees through a series of working sessions and one-on-one coaching to articulate the social impact they aspire to achieve, create a full-cost financial budget, strengthen their fundraising pitch, and develop a document they can use to make their case to prospective funders and investors. The program intentionally created space for grantees to learn as a group during in-person trainings and to learn from each other during informal conversations and peer learning sessions where they discussed topics like how to effectively engage stakeholders or communicate about their work.

“Place-based work can be lonely,” said Lois Greco, senior vice president and evaluation officer of the Wells Fargo Regional Foundation. “Grantees often don’t know others facing similar struggles. They appreciate the opportunity to learn from each other and build a peer network.”

After the program concluded, we provided six additional months of coaching to help participants work toward a fundraising goal. Coming out of the program—through which we worked with more than 30 total grantees—88 percent of all participants raised at least $100,000 in new funds within two years for their neighborhood revitalization efforts.

Following the success of the Sustainability Initiative, the foundation wanted to understand how it could build the capacity of its grantees to partner in a more formal collaborative way. Many grantees were already part of collaborative efforts to address their communities’ needs. However, in a ten-year evaluation of the foundation’s grants program identified that these collaborative efforts experienced a higher rate of failure than non-collaborative projects. In response, we undertook a second grantee listening exercise and worked with the foundation to develop a collaborative training program focused on growing capacity in areas grantees identified as most crucial to their ability to collaborate. The first step in the program was administering a diagnostic survey of all partners within a collaborative to understand their strengths and opportunities for growth among several building blocks of collaboration, such as “a strong culture based in trust” and “clear outcomes and systems to measure success.” Using the survey results, participants selected two or more areas to focus on, and then worked with us to develop and implement new solutions, tools, and group processes around improving those areas.

Revitalizing a neighborhood

can take decades

EARLY OUTCOMES

Through working sessions, monthly calls, and coaching, participants received tailored, in-depth support to put these solutions in place. Participants also received group training on needs that were most common across the cohort, such as strengthening culture and engaging community members in the work. At the end of the collaborative program’s pilot year, participants re-took the diagnostic survey and saw a 15 to 20 percent increase in their scores for collaborative competencies including clear decision-making, effective collaborative-wide communication, and strong culture.

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Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation: Taking a networked approach to building nonprofit capacity

The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation: Taking a networked approach to building nonprofit capacity

THE CHALLENGE

Spend down a $1.2 billion endowment in 20 years in a way that leaves communities stronger

THE OUTCOME

Investing in the capacity of nonprofits to better equip them to innovate and collaborate around complex social issues

OUR APPROACH

The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation was founded in 2014 through the bequest of its namesake, the late longtime owner and founder of the Buffalo Bills football team. Before his death, Wilson set a 20-year lifespan for the foundation. As the foundation staff and board considered how best to spend down $1.2 billion by 2035 in two regions (Southeast Michigan and Western New York), they knew they needed to prioritize building the capacity of the regions’ nonprofits so nonprofits would be better equipped to carry on their work after the foundation closed.

In 2017 the foundation decided to invest in creating a center in Detroit to support nonprofits in Southeast Michigan. The vision of the center is a physical space with staffed, structured programming where nonprofits can collaborate and innovate around challenges facing the region and access resources and support they need to effectively deliver solutions.

The foundation engaged local partners including TechTown, Michigan Nonprofit Association, and Michigan Community Resource to help them design and launch the center and its services. After making an initial round of grants to these key partners, the foundation realized it needed to engage a neutral third party to facilitate design sessions, provide ongoing project management to keep the work on track, and support the partners in continuing to engage key stakeholders across Southeastern Michigan. The foundation chose Community Wealth Partners to serve in this backbone role, bringing insight on national best practices for capacity building and offering guidance on measuring the center’s impact.

A physical space to

collaborate and innovate

EARLY RESULTS

Our team provided the capacity, skills and expertise the foundation and its partners needed to turn the vision for Co.act Detroit into a reality. We facilitated working sessions among the partners and shared insights from a national scan of related efforts to help the partners define a shared vision for the center and consider the services they might offer. The center, named Co.act Detroit, will work with nonprofits to build their capacity so that over time they become better equipped to innovate and collaboratively address the region’s most pressing complex social challenges. With our facilitation, research, and support, the partners defined a five-stage continuum to understand nonprofits’ evolving capacity for collaboration and innovation and to provide the right resources and supports at the right time.

 

We also helped the partners define how they will assess the center’s impact on the region’s nonprofit sector. Partners will track outcomes on three levels:

  1. guest experience of those visiting the center
  2. organizational capabilities for the center itself and the organizations accessing services
  3. network and system impact.

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