Wells Fargo Regional Foundation: Building capacity for community change

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Wells Fargo Regional Foundation: Building capacity for community change


Equip grantees to better sustain their impact and collaborate effectively


Cohort-based capacity-building programs designed around grantee input


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


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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