How to Engage Authentically with Communities

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Advice for Nonprofit Organizations and Foundations Engaging with Communities

Earlier this month we released our field guide Sharing Power with Communities, a tool for nonprofits and foundations experiencing challenges or looking for new ways to authentically engage communities in furthering their mission. The guide includes principles, models, strategies, common pitfalls, and resources.

One of the models featured in the field guide highlights a community led research process with Child Care Aware of America, a national nonprofit focused on quality and affordable child care. The organization partnered with Community Wealth Partners to facilitate a Parent Listening Team of parent leaders representing a diverse spectrum of families across the nation while prioritizing the voices of those that had faced the greatest personal barriers to accessing affordable, quality child care in their communities.

In this interview, Walter Howell, Associate Director at Community Wealth Partners sat down with one of the parent and community leaders, Fay Pierce to discuss what it felt like to participate in the process and her 3 critical steps nonprofits and foundations should consider when working with communities.

Full Interview featuring Fay Pierce, Parent and Community Leader Interviewed by Walter Howell, Associate Director at Community Wealth Partners

Here is the full interview featuring Community Leader, Fay Pierce and Associate Director at Community Wealth Partners, Walter Howell.

Sharing Power with Communities: A Field Guide Conversation

Normalizing Rest on the Road to Recovery in the Social Sector

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The power and impact of workplace sabbaticals have become increasingly relevant following the Great Resignation and burn out of employees across sectors. Reported benefits of sabbaticals include improved wellbeing, increased focus and engagement, and reduced turnover. Despite these reports, sabbaticals remain a privilege offered by some 16% of employers.. A report by Givebutter finds that “1 in every 10 employees working for a nonprofit, a large portion of our nation’s workforce, are feeling overworked, under-resourced, and disengaged. Leaders (60%) report feeling “used up” at the end of the workday.”  

“Grind culture”, or the celebration of working long hours and being constantly connected to work, is a trait of white supremacy culture. Systemic inequities in funding Black, Indigenous, people of color led organizations result in leaders of color having to stretch themselves thin with limited resources to invest in rest and well-being for themselves and their teams. Organizations such as the BIPOC-ED Coalition and advocates like Tricia Hersey, Founder of  The Nap Ministry are lifting up the dangers of glorifying work without rest. These and other leaders are encouraging the social sector to create space for rest and restoration through sabbaticals at all levels. As the sector continues to raise awareness around the need for rest, foundations are funding sabbaticals for nonprofit leaders while centering leaders of color specifically. 

Community Wealth Partners has a sabbatical policy in place for staff who have worked at the firm for 10 years. We took time to reflect on rest through sabbatical at Community Wealth Partners in an intimate conversation with our CEO, Amy Celep, Associate Director, Rachel Hutt, and Senior Director, Amy Farley. The following audio clips were recorded with intention to reflect on their sabbatical experiences, challenge our thinking as a firm, and share what we are wrestling with in an effort to normalize conversations around rest in the sector.  

It is important to note that to date only 4 people have been beneficiaries of sabbaticals at our firm so far, all of which are white women. As we continue the discussion around rest, we are examining our own policies to determine what changes we might need to make to ensure our team members experience time away from work for rest and recovery.  

Below are some questions we are holding as it relates to the future of rest through sabbatical. We encourage you to reflect on these questions and continue the dialogue with your colleagues, friends, and family. 

How would our work be impacted if we normalized rest as fuel on the road to changemaking in the sector? 

What practices could we examine within our organization to normalize rest? 

What do our colleagues of color need to feel supported in taking time to rest? 

Parking Lot Conversations at Community Wealth Partners | Rest Through Sabbaticals

Amy Celep, CEO, Rachel Hutt, Associate Director, and Amy Farley, Senior Director share their reflections on sabbatical and the importance of rest on the road to equity.

What is the history and thought behind the sabbatical program at Community Wealth Partners?

Amy Celep, CEO

What did you do during your sabbatical? 

Amy Farley, Senior Director

What were your big “Ah-ha” moments during sabbatical?

Amy Farley, Senior Director

Rachel Hutt, Associate Director

Looking back, what did sabbatical give you?

Amy Farley, Senior Director

What are your observations of team members when they return from sabbatical?

Amy Celep, CEO

What role did your colleagues play during your sabbatical?

Amy Celep, CEO

Rachel Hutt, Associate Director

What are your observations around sabbaticals in the field?

Rachel Hutt, Associate Director

Amy Celep, CEO

Amy Farley, Senior Director

Historically, white women have been the beneficiaries of sabbaticals at CWP. What are your thoughts around that and what changes might you consider moving forward?

Amy Celep, CEO

Sharing Power With Community Members: Perspectives from Rochester-Area Funders, Nonprofits, and Parents

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Engaging people with lived experiences can strengthen nonprofits’ and foundations’ work and build community power, but it also can cause harm and deepen mistrust if not done well. As foundations and nonprofits strive to center community members and look to them as experts, many struggle to engage with them in meaningful ways.

In Rochester, New York, there is a growing movement to center parents’ knowledge and perspective in programs and services that support the health and well-being of children. For more than two decades, the National Parent Leadership Institute (NPLI) has worked with parents across the country to help them build skills and knowledge to advocate for their children and families and have a voice at decision-making tables.

When the Greater Rochester Health Foundation wanted to engage parents in updating its Healthy Futures grantmaking strategy, the foundation partnered with NPLI to bring parents into the work. At the same time, the foundation worked with NPLI to help a small group of nonprofit grantees learn how they could center parent voice in their organizations. Since those initial steps, the foundation has worked to center community voice in all areas of its work, and supported a growing number of grantees in doing the same.

The following videos share the perspectives of staff members of Greater Rochester Health Foundation, NPLI, and University of Rochester Medical Center (a grantee) as well as Rochester-area parents who have received training from NPLI and work in partnership with the foundation and University of Rochester. In these clips you will hear why sharing power with community matters, the difference it makes to programs and strategies, and advice for funders, nonprofit leaders, and community members.

What Does Parent Leadership Look Like in Action?

Carolyn Lee-Davis of NPLI and parent leader facilitators Toyin Anderson and Maria Dalmau describe NPLI’s approach and how it contributes to stronger organizations, stronger communities, and better solutions.

What is NPLI and a parent leader facilitator?

Why is empowering parents important?

What should organizations who want to engage parents consider?

What steps can parents take to become advocates for their children and communities?

How Can Nonprofits Authentically Partner with Parents? What Difference Does It Make?

Linda Alpert-Gillis, ph.D., of University of Rochester Medical Center and parents Toyin Anderson, Maria Dalmau, and Jason McDonald discuss how they have worked together to help the Pediatric Behavioral Health & Wellness department better meet the needs of patients and their families.

Why is it important for organizations to engage parents?

What qualities are important to be a parent advocate?

What are the barriers to authentic engagement?

How does authentic engagement impact nonprofit leaders and organizations?

How does authentic engagement impact parents and families?

How Can Funders Authentically Partner with Parents? What Difference Does It Make?

Parent leader Toyin Anderson and Greater Rochester Health Foundation staff Danette Campbell-Bell, Anita Black, and Matthew Kuhlenbeck reflect on lessons they’ve learned through partnering together and advice they’d offer funders interested in engaging community in similar ways.

What have you learned through the experience of creating a closer partnership between parents and the foundation?

How did you rethink processes and roles?

What impact have you seen result from authentically engaging parents?

What advice would you offer funders looking to engage community more authentically?

Building a Culture of Equity and Inclusion in Collaboration

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Culture can make or break collaboration. Culture guides how members of a collaborative will work together and impacts what the group is able to achieve together. When the goal of collaboration is to address inequities in a system or community, it is critical to build a culture that centers equity and inclusion. Without this intentionality, collaborations, just like organizations, will default to behaviors of white dominant culture—behaviors that can stand in the way of the authentic inclusion and long-term, systemic thinking needed to achieve equitable outcomes.

Since March 2020, we have worked with a community of practice of more than 35 nonprofit organizations focused on healthy food access and consumption. The goal of this community is to increase access to and consumption of healthy foods—particularly in Black, Latinx, Indigenous, elderly, and rural communities. The funder of the community, Walmart Foundation, has been intentional about fully ceding power to participants and us, as the backbone of the collaborative, in deciding how to build this community.

From our work with this group, we have seen firsthand the importance of intentionally building a culture that prioritizes equity and inclusion. As designers and facilitators of this community, we have reflected on mistakes we’ve made and celebrated small wins that have happened along the way. As we reflect on our experiences with this community and other collaboratives we’ve been part of, we see three aspects of white supremacy culture, as described by Tema Okun, that can be common—urgency, quantity over quality, and paternalism.* By sharing our experiences, we hope to help other collaborative efforts find ways to actively work against harmful aspects of white supremacy culture.

Right-sizing the sense of urgency

A false sense of urgency can crowd out space for thinking about the long term, recognizing where you have gaps in perspective or in knowledge, or building an inclusive space where all voices are welcome and heard. Sometimes collaboratives move too quickly to action because of external pressures such as funding timelines or in response to the urgency of the issue they seek to address.

When we started our work with the Healthy Food Community of Practice, we recognized early on that we did not have full representation of the communities we wanted to serve among the participants we were bringing to the table. We knew we needed to start somewhere, and at the time it made sense to start with the organizations who raised this idea in the first place, which happened to be mostly large, national organizations. In hindsight, we should have paused to ask ourselves some questions: What is the implication of building the community around these organizations? How might that help us or not help us achieve the goal of creating healthy food access and consumption for historically marginalized folks? Taking the time to dig into those questions would have led to a more intentional, and probably more inclusive, design process.

At the same time, a common challenge we’ve seen with collaboratives that do not have some urgency is they can become groups that are all talk and no action, and this can be a waste of time and resources. Some balance is needed between an unnecessarily heightened sense of urgency and lack of urgency that can also feel like lack of accountability to the community you say you want to help. Collaboratives can resist white dominant culture by creating regular space for reflection and self-awareness about how urgency is showing up in the work, centering the people affected by the collaborative in the reflection. If you are feeling urgency, what is driving it? If there doesn’t seem to be any urgency, what is the cost of that? How might adjusting where or how you place urgency bring you into closer alignment with your values and how you want to work together?

Countering paternalism through shared power

Without clarity at the outset about how decisions will be made, it can be easy to default to patterns where decision making is clear to those with power and unclear to those without power. Lack of clarity and intentionality about decision making can also result in people affected by the decisions not being involved in making them. This can become more complicated in large collaboratives with many participants, when someone is playing a backbone role, and/or by funding relationships.

Nearly all these dynamics are at play in the Healthy Food Community of Practice. The participants represent organizations of various sizes and hold a range of roles within their organizations. It’s not practical (or desired by the group) to engage the full community in every decision. For the decisions where we do engage the full community, there can be power dynamics at play among participants. As facilitators of the community, we recognize that every decision we make is a form of wielding power.

One way we have tried to mitigate these dynamics is by forming an advisory council, a group of seven to 10 participants that we engage periodically to advise the program design. We offer a stipend to help compensate for the extra time participation requires, and when members join, they are signing on for a period of five months. At the end of their term, new members can join the advisory council so that the power that comes with this role is shared broadly across the community over time. The advisory council has added an important voice to the design of the community, helping to ensure the topics we elevate for discussion and thought leadership bring maximum value and relevancy to the community.

When we had extra funds available for the community (due to the shift from in-person to virtual meetings in 2020 and 2021), we worked with participants to design a participatory grantmaking process. As a result, the community awarded grants to three collaborative efforts happening among participating organizations. This was a step towards countering paternalism, however, we recognize that we could move further along the power-sharing spectrum. Ultimately, it is the communities that are most impacted by the issue of nutrition insecurity that should be deciding how funds are allocated. We continue to learn and evolve to move further along this spectrum.

Flipping the “quantity over quality” default

In general, there is an over-reliance on quantifiable outputs and metrics as a way to gauge effectiveness in the nonprofit sector. This is driven in large part by funders and the “what gets measured gets funded” refrain that is so common. This way of thinking crowds out space for developing thoughtful processes, building relationships, clarifying values for working together, and prioritizing long-term, systemic change over short-term gains. While it is always important to respond to immediate needs, we also need nonprofits to have the resources and time to work upstream to change the systems that are causing the immediate needs.

To flip the “quantity over quality” mentality, collaboratives can first ask, “why are we coming together?” and “how do we want to work together?” before getting too far in figuring out “what do we want to do together?” Our theory of change for the Healthy Food Community of Practice centered relationship building as a foundational step in forming the community, recognizing that this was a critical first step for the group to move toward learning, action, and field-building. The community began by establishing some shared goals and norms for working together. These have evolved over time as the group has deepened relationships and dug into the work together. As more BIPOC leaders have joined the community and we have been having tougher conversations about the intersection of race equity in food systems, the norms and behaviors that guide the community’s conversations have needed to evolve. While we recognize it is not possible to prevent all harm, we also believe it is our role as the backbone to establish conditions that prevent as much harm as possible and equip people in the community of practice to repair harm when it happens. We continue to learn how best to do that.

We have also found it helpful to create opportunities for “small wins” as a way to help deepen relationships and help the group find common purpose. The Healthy Food Community of Practice has formed small work groups, which they call “innovation pods,” to work on discrete topics, such as developing a revised theory of change for nutrition education that is more culturally competent and conducting research to understand how the pandemic impacted benefits enrollment processes and form recommendations moving forward. These small wins help participants build relationships with one another, help the group take steps toward their broader goal, and help build momentum for larger actions the group can take in the future.

Once the work is underway, collaboratives can rethink how they measure success beyond outputs and outcomes. Interaction Institute for Social Change’s Results-Process-Relationship Triangle offers a helpful frame for reflecting on what’s working well within a collaborative and areas for improvement.

Building a culture that prioritizes equity and inclusion

Culture builds within a collaboration whether you are intentional about it or not, and collaboratives that don’t focus on building a culture that prioritizes equity and inclusion are likely to default to the white dominant norms that are deeply engrained in our ways of working. We know this because we’ve been there many times. While we’ve learned there are many ways white dominant culture could show up in harmful ways in collaboratives and many ways collaboratives could buck against it, here are three possible places to start:

  • Right-sizing the sense of urgency: Create space for regular reflection on whether and how the group is feeling urgency. If you are feeling urgency, what is driving it? If there doesn’t seem to be any urgency, what is the cost of that? Where might a different level of urgency bring you into closer alignment with your values and how you want to work together?
  • Countering paternalism: Be transparent about how decisions are being made. Work toward sharing decision-making power. Ensure you are involving people that will be affected by the decision.
  • Prioritizing quality, not quantity: Prioritize strong relationships and thoughtful, inclusive processes as equally important as achieving measurable results. Hold space to reflect on process and relationships in addition to results.


* If this statement is raising feelings of defensiveness for you, consider the words of Tema Okun: “The invitation for this and every characteristic is to investigate how each and all characteristics and qualities lead to disconnection (from each other, ourselves, and all living things) and how the antidotes can support us to reconnect. If you read these characteristics and qualities as blaming or shaming, perhaps they are particularly alive for you. If you find yourself becoming defensive as you read them, lean into the gift of defensiveness and ask yourself what you are defending. The description of these characteristics are meant to help us see our culture so that we can transgress and transform and build culture that truly supports us individually and collectively.” We are sharing our reflections in the spirit of contributing to a collective culture of equity and inclusion in nonprofit collaborations. 


Spectrum of Collaboration

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Several years ago, we set out to answer one powerful question: Why do some social change initiatives achieve transformational results while others only make incremental progress? We studied the anti-malaria movement, the designated driver campaign, the anti-tobacco movement, the revitalization of Harlem, and the anti-hunger movement, among others, to decode the building blocks of transformational efforts. Based on this research, we identified a set of insights about what drives transformation, and we apply these in our work today. These insights underscore the undeniable importance of intentional collaboration in achieving transformational change.

Through our experience working with dozens of collaborative efforts, we have seen a spectrum of approaches to collaboration – from learning to coordination to integration – each of which brings positive benefit to the communities touched by these efforts, and each of which has a different degree of impact.

  • Learning focuses on sharing information and lessons learned among organizations.
  • Coordination focuses on engaging in some level of coordination around their existing programs.
  • Integration focuses on aligning efforts around a clear, shared definition of success and combining assets to unlock new innovations, strategies, and outcomes.

While a collaboration that is focused on learning can typically be established in a matter of months, a more integrated approach can take years to develop. Often groups may start with a focus on learning or coordination and then build over time to integration.

Being explicit about where your collaborative is on this spectrum and whether and how you plan to progress can help your effort have greater impact. Without this intentionality, collaboratives can get stuck in a swirl of process without any tangible outcomes or rush too quickly to integration without putting in the necessary time to build relationships and align on a shared definition of success.

Here are three examples of collaboration at each point of the spectrum.

Newman’s Own Foundation: Focusing on Learning and Evolving to Coordination

Despite their common missions, nonprofits working to increase access to fresh food and nutrition education in underserved communities had limited interaction with each other. When the Newman’s Own Foundation recognized this dynamic among their grantees, the foundation saw an opportunity for expanding their impact. The foundation funded a peer learning cohort for grantees. The cohort started with a focus on building relationships and trust among participants. Then the group shifted toward establishing a shared vision of success and norms and practices such as processes for selecting learning topics, rotating facilitation, and hosting at one another’s sites. From the start, the foundation emphasized a participant-led process, and an evaluation of the cohort found that the participant-led approach allowed cohort members—who may sometimes view one another as competitors for funding—to organically form relationships, build trust, and openly share strengths and challenges. The learning that happened within the cohort also sparked opportunities for coordination among participants. For example, members have introduced one another to funders and formed partnerships to pilot new programs. (Learn more about this cohort in Funding Without Prescription in Stanford Social Innovation Review.)

Healthy Food Community of Practice: Coordination to Increase Access to and Consumption of Healthy Food

The Walmart Foundation funded the Healthy Foods Community of Practice to support learning and collaboration among national organizations working to increase access and consumption of healthy foods. The community of practice has a specific focus on reaching Black, Latinx, Indigenous, rural, and elder communities. A three-month design process that engaged diverse stakeholders representing the types of organizations that might participate led to a vision that focuses on four actions that, together, will lead to systemic change: relationship building, learning, action, and field building. By progressing through these actions, the community has the potential to ensure that households that are historically marginalized and/or have experienced food insecurity can access and consume healthier food. The community of practice started in March 2020 — the same time the COVID-19 pandemic caused a spike in food insecurity and severe disruption to these organizations’ ways of working. In the early months of the community of practice, the group focused on building relationships and learning and sharing related to COVID relief. Over time, greater coordination emerged—primarily within six “innovation pods” focused on discrete topics. Today, these pods are taking a variety of actions, such as developing a revised theory of change for nutrition education that is more culturally competent and conducting research to understand how the pandemic impacted benefits enrollment processes and form recommendations moving forward. These “small wins” hold the potential of building to larger, more collective and integrated efforts as the cohort evolves. (See more about this community on their website or in this video.)

AZECA: Integration to Improve Statewide Education

AZECA is an independent statewide collaboration of more than 50 funders, advocates, service providers, and businesses working to create an aligned, high-quality system that ensures all children across Arizona are ready for kindergarten and proficient in reading and math by the end of third grade. Anchored by the Helios Education Foundation, the collaborative had been operating before several years before it moved to integration. After years of relationship building and learning, the collaborative came together to revisit its goals, define each organization’s contribution to the work, establish norms for working together and making decisions, and coordinate partner efforts. The result was transformational: A coordinated strategy, a functioning governance structure, and multi-year funding commitments to the collaborative, which led to several statewide policy wins. These included unfreezing a childcare subsidy waitlist, which led 2,926 families and 5,239 children to gain access to childcare and securing a preschool development grant worth $20 million. (For more about this collaborative, read Cocreating a Change-making Culture in Stanford Social Innovation Review.)

Questions to Consider

As you reflect on where in the spectrum your collaboration sits and whether and how it might evolve, consider these questions:


  • How are we working to build relationships and trust? What more could we do?
  • What are our goals for learning within this collaborative? What are we hoping to see as a result?
  • How are we engaging participants to help ensure the learning is relevant and timely?
  • How might we put learning into action? What will change as a result?
  • Do we hope for the learning to evolve to coordination within this collaboration? If so, how might that evolution happen?


  • What are some “small wins” we might achieve to help build momentum within the collaborative?
  • How do the discrete, coordinated efforts we are considering support the broader vision of the collaborative? What is our vision of success?
  • How are we intentionally building trust and upholding the behaviors and practices will help us achieve our results?
  • Do we hope for coordination to evolve to integration within this collaborative? If so, how might that evolution happen?


  • What is our shared vision for what we can accomplish together?
  • How are we defining and measure our success?
  • What are the unique assets each participant in the collaborative is bringing? How are we leveraging these assets?
  • What strategies will we use to accomplish our goals?
  • How will we sustain the work overtime?
  • How are we intentionally building trust and upholding the behaviors and practices will help us achieve our results?

Wealthy Donors Need to Go Outside Their Bubbles and Support Local Organizations Driving Social Change

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Reposted with permission of the Chronicle of Philanthropy

By Erinn Andrews , Lori Bartczak, Rebecca Shamash, and Piyush Tantia

During the past few months, many foundation leaders have called on philanthropic organizations to change their practices in pursuit of racial equity, including directing more resources to Black-led organizations. But these important efforts leave out a critical funding source for nonprofits: major individual donors.

Research released Monday by our organizations found that wealthy donors are in a unique position to provide reliable and flexible funding for community-based organizations but are frequently stymied by ingrained philanthropic practices that lead them away from giving to these groups.

The good news is that these donors often provide exactly the type of support that could benefit community-based nonprofits: multiyear, unrestricted funding with minimal administrative burden. But our interviews with 34 major donors, whose annual giving ranged from $13,000 to $5 million (with a median value of $100,000), found that they typically rely on personal experience and networks to identify which groups to support. As a result, a vital funding opportunity is lost for organizations that aren’t already plugged into wealthy donor networks.

Most of the donors we spoke with reported spending little time researching organizations to give to and instead relied on personal connections and recommendations of family and friends. In order to make a larger gift, donors said they needed to have a belief in the organization’s mission, a relatively longstanding relationship with an entity, some type of personal connection with the mission or the organization itself, confidence that the nonprofit was well run, and trust in its leadership.

Why Causes Get Left Out

While these approaches are convenient and comfortable for donors, they are also problematic. From a behavioral-science perspective, using trust in leadership as a criterion for giving carries the risk of implicit bias. Most people judge traits like competence within microseconds based on factors such as ethnicity and socioeconomic status. We typically like people simply because they are similar to us or are familiar in some way. Using emotional criteria such as trust or likeability to make decisions about giving can create barriers to building relationships with nonprofit leaders of different races or backgrounds at organizations not already supported by major donors or high-profile foundations.

The result is that community-based organizations whose work falls outside of donors’ personal networks or experiences have less opportunity to cultivate relationships that lead to significant donor support. Multiple studies from organizations such as Echoing Green, the Bridgespan Group, Open Impact, and Building Movement Project have found that community-based nonprofits whose missions are focused on social change lack the networks and resources to engage deeply with donors, which affects the amount of funding they receive. The problem is particularly acute for organizations led by people of color.

While our research uncovered areas in significant need of improvement among major donors, we also found encouraging practices. Most notably, major donors tend to give unrestricted funding to nonprofits, allowing them the flexibility to use the money as they see fit, including on overhead.

We had hypothesized that donors would prefer to see their money go directly to programs and services and might be reluctant to support operating costs, but our interviews with eight nonprofit leaders revealed the opposite. All reported they had little trouble raising unrestricted funding from individual donors. In turn, the donors we spoke with largely recognized that nonprofits need strong operations to deliver quality programs and consequently often gave unrestricted funding.

Wealthy donors have the potential to be key allies to local organizations meeting critical needs and driving racial-equity movements. But these donors need to intentionally take steps to reach beyond their comfortable giving bubbles. Here’s what they should do to get started:

Look beyond personal networks to find and fund organizations that directly serve people of color. Seek out introductions to nonprofit leaders working on issues related to racial equity. Build relationships with those organizations by attending online events (or in person when allowed again) or by doing volunteer work.

Build relationships with people of different backgrounds and identities. Join social or professional groups with diverse memberships or take part in professional development opportunities that draw a diverse crowd.

Listen and learn from community leaders and activists of color. They are closest to the issues and are in the best position to define the problem, identify opportunities, and shape solutions. Follow them on social media; take part in conferences or events where they are speaking; follow the outlets that are amplifying their voices.

Consider supporting a philanthropy organization that connects donors and nonprofits. Examples include the Groundswell Fund, Solidaire Network, and Headwaters Foundation for Justice, all of which use donated funds to make grants to organizations working on racial equity. These organizations, often referred to as intermediaries, can also connect donors to community organizations in need of funding and provide guidance on the amount to give.

Continue giving unrestricted funding and making multiyear pledges. These gifts are the most valuable to nonprofits because these donations can be invested where organizations see fit and provide a source of predictable revenue.

Educate other donors about the importance of giving to community-based organizations. Donors who are passionate about a particular nonprofit led by a person of color should share that passion with other donors in their network and encourage them to support the organization as well.

Donors who want to support racial justice need to recognize how their own unconscious behavior may influence their decisions about which organizations they trust to do this work. They need to reach beyond their networks, seek diverse voices to inform their philanthropy, and give more to community-based organizations serving people of color. Now is the time for individual major donors to do things differently.

Erinn Andrews is director of research and education at the Effective Philanthropy Learning Initiative at Stanford’s Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society, where Rebecca Shamash is a research fellow. Lori Bartczak is senior director of knowledge and content at Community Wealth Partners and Piyush Tantia is chief innovation officer at ideas42. Their research was supported by the Fidelity Charitable Trustees’ Initiative.

Read the original post on here on the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s website.

4 Emerging Practices to Build a Strong Capacity-Building Program Ecosystem

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Efforts to invest in strengthening leaders and organizations have merit: Research has shown that capacity building of all types can produce positive, long-term financial results for nonprofits.

Yet nonprofits often say that finding the right provider can be difficult and costly, particularly when it comes to racial equity capacity building. Providers say they rarely have opportunities to build their own capacity or collaborate, which leads to a system in which each provider uses different language, tools, and frameworks and their work rarely builds on that of one another. And funders say they struggle to support nonprofits’ capacity in the way that is most meaningful to them and has the greatest impact.

What would it look like to have a healthy capacity-building program ecosystem? How would our approach to capacity building be different?

Imagine if nonprofits seeking racial equity capacity-building services had a variety of options, a clear understanding of those options, ample time to vet providers, and enough resources to hire them. Imagine if providers were regularly building their own capacity, too, and working together to align services so nonprofits received tailored, relevant, complementary training from everyone. Imagine if funders were true, responsive partners to nonprofits and providers in deepening their impact.

The Kresge Foundation’s Fostering Urban and Equitable Leadership (FUEL) program – made up of a group of courageous capacity builders and nonprofits (see the full list of providers here) – is beginning to work toward an ecosystem like this. Since race greatly impacts outcomes in every social issue, racial equity is embedded throughout the program.

The FUEL program gives about 120 Kresge grantees access to talent and leadership development services that incorporate a lens of racial equity to build stronger senior teams, stronger mid-level talent, more diverse talent, and more equitable practices in organizations.

We explored this vision for a better capacity-building ecosystem at the 2019 Upswell conference with Caroline Altman Smith from The Kresge Foundation, Jessica Vazquez Torres from Crossroads Antiracism Organizing and Training, Mikaela Seligman from AchieveMission, and Monisha Kapila from ProInspire. The group discussed opportunities and challenges of building an ecosystem like this and shared emerging practices that demonstrate what’s possible when power is shared and everyone involved listens to and respects one another.

Funders have a role in creating a healthy capacity-building ecosystem by striving for certain elements in their capacity-building programs:

  1. Nonprofits have voice and choice. Nonprofits often understand their own needs best. In a healthy ecosystem, they have power to voice their needs and design the focus of capacity-building programs. Funders should allow nonprofits to decide how much time and investment they want to put in. For some organizations, a day-long training may be ideal while for others, a six-month program could be a better option. Funders might address this by offering various formats, from peer learning to coaching to consulting. Funders should also ensure nonprofits can choose the provider they want, perhaps from a menu of options. They can do this by aggregating a network of high-quality providers and helping to match nonprofits to their top provider choices. This puts nonprofits at the center of the work, meeting them where they are. In the FUEL program, nonprofits had voice and choice in how the program was designed and gave feedback throughout their experience in the program. For situations in which nonprofits don’t know what they need – which is especially common in racial equity capacity building – funders can connect nonprofits to providers and other grantees to offer guidance.
  2. Funders invest in providers’ capacity. In a healthy ecosystem, providers are strong so they can effectively support nonprofits, and their work is rooted in racial equity practices. Funders can bolster the field of capacity builders by investing in their internal operating capacities, racial equity capacity, and program work. In the FUEL program, providers received operating grants from Kresge that allowed them to do things like invest in their own diversity, equity, and inclusion training; strengthen their marketing and communications functions; and collaborate with each other to co-develop racial equity programs that were then offered to nonprofits.
  3. Providers collaborate with each other. In a healthy ecosystem, capacity builders have time and space to come together, learn from one another, and align their work. Funders can support this by convening providers and connecting them to each other. For example, the FUEL program intentionally created opportunities for providers to connect with each other through program calls and in-person convenings. As a result of these connections, some providers underwent other providers’ racial equity trainings. This not only helped deepen organizations’ learning and racial equity competencies, but as they saw each other’s work, they also began to see opportunities to collaborate, build racial equity-focused programs together, and partner in delivering existing services. For example, Change Elemental, ProInspire, and Crossroads Antiracism collaborated to develop the Learning Community to Operationalize Equity, a 10-month cohort that seeks to deepen participating organizations’ capacity to center racial equity and navigate power dynamics. AchieveMission and Crossroads Antiracism collaborated to co-design a cohort program focused on succession planning with race and gender at the center. These collaborations are ultimately strengthening each organization’s delivery of services and the field overall.
  4. Everyone involved focuses on building relationships through listening. A healthy ecosystem is grounded in relationships, which are developed in part through deep listening. Listening builds trust, creates opportunities for learning, and leads to better practices. For example, in the FUEL program, listening to the providers helped us at Community Wealth Partners realize ways we were perpetuating white dominant culture and led us to change practices, like relaxing program timelines so providers had more time to develop materials and nonprofits had more time to assess provider options. We also saw how other providers in the program deepened relationships with each other, which led them to create this vision for a stronger, more equitable capacity-building ecosystem.

Everyone in the capacity-building program ecosystem plays a critical role, and funders have great power to shape that ecosystem and, ultimately, effect lasting change. As you think about how to foster a healthy capacity-building ecosystem, consider these questions:

  • What is your vision for a racially equitable community? What do you hope will result from your capacity-building work?
  • Who are the players in the capacity-building ecosystem? Who’s not engaged in the system that should be?
  • How might you interact with those players to contribute to a stronger capacity-building ecosystem? Where do you see opportunities to shift power?

Four Questions to Sit With as You Learn to Let Communities Lead

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This post originally appeared on the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy blog. Read the original post here.

Good things happen when funders shift power to communities. It’s “regenerative.” We “actually get outcomes that work” and “build a groundswell for change.” But it’s hard to “give up power and build trust,” to “learn about the things you got wrong,” to “never have enough time to do it right.”

During our recent session “Learning to Let Communities Lead” at Independent Sector’s Upswell conference, we heard these and other things that make community leadership both exciting and challenging.

There’s no single model for working with all communities, but in this session three speakers shared their models in hopes some elements could be adapted to fit other communities and contexts. Jehan Benton-Clark shared how The Colorado Health Foundation uses the Community Engagement IMPACT Practice Model, a framework for how program officers engage with communities in Colorado. Lysa Ratliff talked about KaBOOM!’s process for partnering with communities to plan, organize, and build play spaces. And Lauren Mikus explained the Wells Fargo Regional Foundation’s model for funding multi-year, community-driven revitalization initiatives.

What was most striking was their and other session participants’ commitment to pushing through challenges. For them, it wasn’t a choice. To sustain impact for the long term, communities have to own it, decide it, shape it, and lead it. Philanthropy’s current top-down approaches aren’t working. If we want to see better results, communities must lead the change.

Coming out of that session, several questions are making us rethink the ways we work and how we support the foundations we work with.

Four questions for funders to sit with as you learn to let communities lead:

1. What is the risk of not shifting power to communities? Many funders think it’s risky to give communities power to make decisions and lead change efforts. After all, they could – and likely would – make decisions you wouldn’t make. But, to borrow the language of Groundswell Fund Executive Director Vanessa Daniel in her recent New York Times article: How are you managing the risk of not doing this? If the solutions created outside of communities haven’t led to the change you sought, then it’s risky to keep funding those solutions. It’s risky to seek solutions from people who don’t face the challenges or live with the consequences of their decisions.

2. What power are you willing to give up? As an organization, be brutally honest with yourselves about what level of power you’re willing to share with the community. As a team – and this is most important for the leaders and decision-makers in your organization – ask yourselves: If communities have this power, what decisions or actions might they take that I wouldn’t agree with? If you indicate that community members can decide how to spend a grant, and then you change your mind after you discover they want to spend the money on something you wouldn’t prioritize, it would break trust and hurt your relationship with the community. If you gather community members’ input but don’t seriously plan to do something with what you hear, community members may feel like their time was wasted and their voices weren’t valued. Once you’ve figured out what power you’re willing to share, communicate clearly with the community about what they can expect of you and the process you plan to take.

It’s also critical that you ask yourself: If we keep this power, what decisions or actions might we take that the community wouldn’t agree with? Keep revisiting these questions and pushing the boundaries of the power you’re willing to give up.

3. How might you better understand the strengths of communities? The more you understand where a community shines brightest, the better partner you can be to that community. This requires listening deeply and asking questions like: What makes you proud to live in this community? What have you accomplished by working together? What strengths do you personally bring to the community?

For our workshop, we put together this Google Drive folder full of tools and resources on ways to center communities and shift power to them. (Session participants – and you, too – are invited to add tools and recommendations to the documents.) The toolkit includes a section on understanding community assets. In addition to understanding those strengths, talk about them! For example, if you can rattle off a list of challenges facing a community with a large population of undocumented immigrants, you should also be able to talk about the networks and social capital they’ve built to protect each other and connect each other with job opportunities. See more resources on asset framing in the section on communicating changes.

4. How can we work together across our sector to reduce burdens on communities? As Lysa Ratliff of KaBOOM! pointed out to us, a community-centered approach also requires us to align better as a sector. Our efforts can often unintentionally place burdens on the community. We ask them for their time, to report back to us on results and to manage us as a resource.

When our work intersects with the work of others in the sector, we have an opportunity and responsibility to better organize our efforts. This can happen through informal sharing and networking or more formal mechanisms like roundtable discussions and data sharing. When we move toward unifying our work as partners, rather than parallel entities, we will be able to improve our collective ability to support community interests.

In another panel conversation at Upswell, a funder said, “too often we are seen as experts because we have the money, but it needs to be the opposite: we are not the experts, because we have the money.” Changing the way we do philanthropy starts with this humility. It leads to more open power-, wealth-, and resource-sharing with the real experts: communities themselves.

Walter and Lauri would like to acknowledge contributions to this blog post from Lysa Ratliff, Jehan Benton-Clark, Lauren Mikus and the session participants of “Learning to Let Communities Lead” at the 2019 Upswell conference. Follow @WeDreamForward on Twitter.


Visit the NCRP blog to read the original post.

Podcast: Making Change through Coalitions

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Coalitions have to grapple with complex issues. They need strategies bold enough to inspire people to get involved but believable enough that people think it can happen. They need to address mistrust among members and with communities. They need to undo some structures they’ve built and find new ways of working.

In this two-part series, Community Wealth Partners’ president Sara Brenner talks with Vitalyst Health Foundation’s Spark podcast. about findings from research on what contributes to transformational change. In Part One, she shares the four stages of the social transformation lifecycle, as well as a story about a coalition. In Part Two, she walks through ten key elements that can help coalitions drive change that lasts.


“If we take step back and think about how we feel in the work, we realize we’re coming up against resistance all the time. Where are those points where we’re stuck, and why are we stuck? When people talk about being stuck, it’s usually because of the dynamics they have with other partners or people within their own organizations. ‘We’re unable to move on an issue because we haven’t worked through a difference in perspective or some kind of competition or a challenge or distrust or our own ambitions are at the forefront rather than the ambition of the cause.’ What we suggest coalitions or organizations do is spend some time building their culture intentionally.” —Sara Brenner


Creating a Partnership Strategy: A Field Guide

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To make real traction on complex social problems, we can’t go it alone. Organizations with ambitious goals, such as ending childhood hunger in a state or solving a city’s housing crisis, need partners in the work. Yet too often, organizations form partnerships without a clear purpose or focus, and the partnership eventually becomes more of a drain on resources than a lever for greater impact.

A partnership strategy can help. We created a field guide to guide you as you create a partnership strategy and grapple with questions about with whom to partner and how to make those partnerships meaningful and effective. In the field guide, we walk through common stages of a partnership and offer actionable tools, questions to explore, and examples of what this work looked like for the education nonprofit City Year.

Partnerships can be challenging, messy, and time-consuming, but they also can help us accomplish more than we could ever hope to achieve on our own. We hope this field guide can provide some structure as you think about how you can approach your partnerships more intentionally.

Download the field guide here.