Newman’s Own Foundation: Helping a cohort of nonprofits advance learning and practice to expand access to fresh foods and nutrition education
Despite their common missions, nonprofits working to increase access to fresh food and nutrition education in underserved communities had limited interaction with each other.
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.
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:
- Investor — financially supporting the cohort and individual grantee needs
- Connector — catalyzing, but not forcing, connections among members
- Learner — learning alongside cohort members and providing support to the cohort