Community Foundations’ Steps Toward Equitable Funding Practices

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Community foundations play a vital role directing resources to areas of greatest community need — especially in times of crisis. In a year marked by dual crises of a global pandemic and a national reckoning on systemic racism, many community foundations have stepped into leadership roles that were entirely new to them. They have established COVID response funds that are distributing resources to support relief and recovery for their communities. Many — through grantmaking, donor education, convening, and advocacy — are playing an active role in helping their communities face histories of racism and oppression and shaping strategies to advance racial equity.

As community foundations stretch in new ways to respond to community needs, many are thinking differently about their role, their value proposition to donors, and how they assess impact.

Recognizing that many community foundations are already playing this role, we wanted to learn more about how they are doing so. Community Wealth Partners interviewed staff members from 13 community foundations, representing a range of geographies and asset sizes. In addition, we reached out to four philanthropic intermediary organizations that are structured differently from community foundations and have an emphasis on funding social justice organizations, grassroots organizations, and/or organizations led by people of color. These interviews yielded insight into how community foundations might think differently about their role and practices they could consider to deepen engagement with communities and donors.

Interestingly, most of the community foundations we spoke with had, in the past few years, adapted their mission statements to name a commitment to advancing racial equity in their community. This affects how these foundations identify organizations to fund through their discretionary grantmaking, the conversations they have with donors, and how they think about their impact. It also affects who has access to the foundation’s resources — both on the discretionary grantmaking side and from donor-advised gifts.

View the full report here. Findings from our research focus on three themes:

  • How and why more community foundations are forming a point of view on racial equity — and how that affects how they work with donors
  • Ways community foundations are fostering connections between donors and nonprofits
  • Evolving thinking about assessing impact

If you are connected to a community foundation, we’d love to hear how these themes resonate with your experience. How is your local community foundation showing leadership in your community? What questions is your community foundation grappling with? Send us a note on Twitter @WeDreamForward or email Lori Bartczak at


⇒ Read the Report


Special Opportunity: Community foundation cohort

Community Wealth Partners is planning a peer learning cohort for community foundations interested in finding new ways to foster connections between donors and nonprofits, starting in January 2021. If you are connected to a community foundation that is looking to adopt new practices to help connect donors with grassroots organizations, nonprofits serving communities of color, and/or organizations led by people of color, this cohort might be of interest to you. Contact Lori Bartczak to learn more.

Engaging Stakeholders in Developing Strategies

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To address complex challenges, we need strong strategies, and strategies are stronger when we engage a diverse set of people (or stakeholders) in shaping solutions. When engaging stakeholders is done well, it can lead to new ideas, stronger and more viable strategies, shared ownership of the vision, greater insight into stakeholder needs, and stronger relationships with stakeholders. But when done poorly and viewed as a checkbox exercise, it can damage trust with stakeholders, fail to add value, and harm the communities you seek to help.

We just released our new field guide on engaging stakeholders in developing strategies, where we share thoughts and questions to reflect on at the beginning of a strategy development process. Our goal is to help you start the process with a clear understanding of which stakeholders you want to engage, why their input matters, and how you will engage them. Though we focus on the strategy process, the information in this field guide might also support stakeholder engagement in other contexts, and we encourage stakeholder engagement as a regular practice outside of the strategy process.

We’re also hosting a conversation this Wednesday, June 24th, at 2pm Eastern. Representatives from Miriam’s Kitchen and the Greater Rochester Health Foundation will join us to talk about what it looks like to engage stakeholders in meaningful ways  and ways to engage stakeholders right now when people are facing so many pressures. Register here.

Register for the Virtual Share & Learn

View the Field Guide

Five Steps to Reimagine Your Organization’s Future Through Scenario Planning

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While the COVID-19 crisis has brought tremendous challenges, it is also bringing out the best in many nonprofit leaders as they work to sustain their missions and create more equitable communities. Many leaders are pivoting their organizations’ services; tending to the professional, emotional, and safety needs of staff and volunteers; forging new partnerships; and testing creative ideas to address inequities.

This type of proactivity is no small feat amid significant disruptions to services, operations, and funding that can leave leaders feeling uncertain about what to prioritize and how to adapt. It can be easy to deprioritize planning completely or default to contingency planning and risk management. In times of crisis, many leaders understandably take a singular focus on preserving the organization’s operations and planning for contingencies. Of course financial health is crucial for continuing services, and our research and experience show organizations also need to take a broader view. Before doubling down on financial health and organizational preservation, nonprofits should focus on the impact they want to have and imagine possible new futures. One way leaders can do this is through scenario planning.

Scenario planning can help your organization manage uncertainty, envision new opportunities, and spot unexpected threats. It helps you focus on the things you can control – even amid great change and uncertainty – so that you are better positioned to achieve your desired impact. It improves your organization’s sustainability by helping you financially prepare for the worst and take data-informed actions sooner than you otherwise might have.

Scenario planning can happen in five steps:

Adapted from Diana Scearce, Katherine Fulton, and the Global Business Network community’s “What If? The Art of Scenario Thinking for Nonprofits.”

1. Define key questions.

What questions do you hope this plan will answer? Are you looking to determine how best to hold steady during turbulent times, or do you want to reimagine your programs and services for a new future?

What is your time horizon for planning? Organizations facing great upheaval and uncertainty may decide to look out only six to 12 months while other organizations may be able to take a longer view. Either approach is fine.

Even if your primary focus is on stabilizing the organization and looking at the near term, scenario planning presents an opportunity to think about steps you can take now that will position you for long-term impact.

2. Explore drivers.

The trajectory of the virus will have many ripple effects, such as closures of schools and other places due to social distancing and economic impacts that affect state budgets, employment, and donor/funder behavior. In most communities, the COVID-19 crisis is widening the racial inequities many nonprofits are working to address. Focus on the two to three driving forces that most affect your organization’s future and are the most uncertain.

3. Build scenarios.

Once you have prioritized the drivers that matter most to your organization, develop a set of plausible and thought-provoking scenarios that represent a range of future outcomes. Here is an example of what scenarios might look like for a nonprofit that identified school closures and state budgets as key drivers.

4. Develop plans based on assets and opportunities.

Envision what each scenario would mean for your organization and what you would do in response. Play out how each scenario might impact the community you serve, your programs, funding, staff, and operations. Pay attention to how each scenario and your response might widen or decrease inequities. For example, data show that communities of color are disproportionately feeling the health and economic impacts of COVID-19. What is your organization doing to address disparities, and how can you ensure your response does not inadvertently contribute to existing inequities?

As you develop your plans, consider where you might have the greatest opportunity for impact. If you are getting stuck trying to imagine a different way of creating impact, take a step back and consider your organization’s core purpose. What are the three things you must hold on to? Maybe those things are your values, the population you serve, or the way you show up in the community. What three things might you change or let go of to stay focused on what matters most? Maybe you are open to changing your funding model, ending a longstanding program, or having staff build new skills. This helps you identify where the greatest opportunities lie in each scenario, what tradeoffs you may need to consider, and the steps you need to take to prepare for the future.

5. Monitor indicators.

To be able to act on your plans, you will need to have a sense of which scenario is playing out. Identify two or three metrics that indicate the organization is transitioning into each scenario, so you can make timely choices about how to respond. Many organizations set financial indicators, such as progress against fundraising goals, to guide operational decisions. Consider what outcome indicators might guide programmatic decisions as well. For example, if you see a widening of racial disparities in your community as the virus spreads, you may decide to double down on your efforts to address those disparities, and that may require you to let go of other activities that don’t support efforts to decrease disparities.

Imagining a New Future

During disruption and uncertainty, scenario planning helps organizations focus on the things they can control. It can clarify what’s most important to your organization and what to pay attention to. Imagining what you would do in your most severe scenario will push you to think creatively and identify actions you could take to help ensure long-term sustainability and improved community outcomes.

While scenario planning can help stabilize organizations during times of crisis, it can also help you imagine a new future. As you embark on scenario planning with your organization, bring an asset-based mindset to consider not just future risks but also the strengths within your organization and community. Build on these assets to find the new opportunities and possibilities for the future, even in times of uncertainty.

Engaging Communities in Developing Strategies

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This blog post is an adapted excerpt from our field guide on stakeholder engagement.

Strategies are stronger when they’re shaped by people who are closest to the issues and who will be most affected when strategies are implemented. Community engagement can range from gathering community members’ input to looking to communities to decide what the strategy should be and how it should be executed. (See more about a spectrum of community engagement to ownership here.)

The way you engage communities has the potential to heal old wounds and build collective power, but it also can deepen mistrust and harm communities. It’s important to approach community engagement with care and consideration.

Here are some considerations to reflect on before engaging communities. This approach draws on insights from the National Gender and Equity Campaign, Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy, Building Movement Project, King County Washington, Marnita’s Table, and our own experiences. See more resources at the bottom of this post.

  • Clarify purpose, outcomes, and process. What do you want to achieve through engaging this community? Do you want their perspectives to inform your strategy, or do you want community members to set the strategy? As you clarify your process for developing the strategy, think about how to center and shift power to those who are most impacted, and leave space to change course and be responsive to the community as needed. Recognize that many perspectives can exist within one community, and work to surface those perspectives. Dive deeper into this topic: “Four Questions to Sit With as You Learn to Let Communities Lead” (Community Wealth Partners)
  • Understand history with the community. How has your organization interacted with this community in the past? Where have you built strong relationships? Where has trust been broken? Understand what the history of your relationship looks like from the community’s perspective. To avoid duplication, identify information community members previously shared that could serve you now. Dive deeper into this topic: “Community Engagement Guide for Sustainable Communities” (PolicyLink)
  • Take an asset-based approach. Recognize that solutions exist within the community. Seek first to understand the community’s strengths and assets. Work with partners who are trusted in the community and who are knowledgeable about community resources. Dive deeper into this topic: “Build a Playground Toolkit: Community Involvement” (KaBOOM!)
  • Create space for relationship-building. Not every interaction with the community needs to be linked to your formal strategy development process. In fact, it can feel transactional to community members if you only engage with them when you have a specific need. Make space to build and strengthen relationships without an agenda. Dive deeper into this topic: “What Institutions Get Wrong About Community Engagement and How They Can Improve” (Marnita’s Table)
  • Reach those most impacted. Make sure those most impacted by the issues you seek to change can participate through offering an accessible location and time, translation services, childcare, transportation, and food and drink. Respect their participation by offering compensation if possible. Listen empathetically and strive to understand, not to reply or reframe. Dive deeper into this topic: “Why Am I Always Being Researched?” (Chicago Beyond)
  • Set clear expectations and create feedback loops. Share decision-making power with the community where possible, and in all cases, clearly define and transparently communicate community members’ role. (e.g., Are you asking for their input, or will they make the final decision?) Ask the community for feedback regularly throughout the process, be intentional about integrating that feedback, and loop back to tell the community how you used their feedback. Talk with the community about how you plan to stay in relationship with them throughout the strategy process and afterward. Dive deeper into this topic: “The Spectrum of Community Engagement to Ownership” (Facilitating Power)

View the full field guide on stakeholder engagement.


Additional resources: 

Photo courtesy of Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action

Three Things Nonprofits Should Prioritize in the Wake of COVID-19

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Nonprofit sustainability, or the ability to continue delivering relevant social impact over the long term, has always been important to nonprofit leaders. But as the spread of COVID-19 causes upheaval in just about every aspect of society and highlights the deep social inequities many nonprofits are working to address, sustainability is becoming even more of a top priority. Over the past few weeks, we’ve spoken with many nonprofit leaders who are worrying about how they will continue to sustain the important programs and services their organizations deliver. Indeed, a recent survey from LaPiana Consulting found that 93 percent of nonprofit respondents have already had to adapt or curtail services.

Naturally, financial health is crucial to ensuring that organizations can continue their work in the months and years ahead. However, our research looking at more than 50 nonprofits after the 2008 economic downturn and the years that followed (one example here), as well as our direct experience working with hundreds of nonprofits, shows the need to take a broader view. Before doubling down on financial health and organizational preservation, nonprofits should first reflect on their social purpose. …


Click here to read the full post in the Stanford Social Innovation Review.


Stories of Earned Revenue

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Funding is top of mind right now. As nonprofits consider their long-term financial sustainability, some organizations are weighing the pros and cons of pursuing an earned-revenue strategy.

For organizations in need of immediate cash, now might not be the time to explore earned revenue. But organizations that are looking to the long term and have flexibility to do early planning and research now can lay the groundwork for an earned-revenue strategy in the future. In the right circumstances, an earned-revenue strategy can help some organizations advance their mission, resource their efforts, access unrestricted funds, and find greater stability.

We hosted a conversation about earned revenue where the nonprofit Per Scholas talked about their experience and help nonprofits answer the questions: 1) Is an earned-revenue strategy the right approach for my organization right now? And 2) What might the process look like to develop and test an earned-revenue strategy?

Watch that conversation below or at this link

We also published a field guide on this topic with frameworks and guiding questions. Stories can bring ideas and frameworks to life, so we wanted to tell a few organizations’ stories of what developing an earned-revenue strategy looked like in practice. In the field guide, we wrote four case studies about nonprofits’ experiences creating and implementing earned-revenue strategies: Center for Children’s Law and Policy, Communities In Schools, Food & Friends, and Per Scholas.

Read the field guide and case studies

If you have questions about earned revenue or would like some free thought partnership from our team, please reach out to Lori Bartczak at


Finding Greater Financial Stability and Impact Through Earned Revenue

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Greater financial stability is on a lot of minds right now – even more than usual, as the world shifts in response to COVID-19 and as economists predict a recession as early as this year. Yet many nonprofits may not be ready for a recession. According to a November 2019 Center for Effective Philanthropy survey, nearly two-thirds of nonprofit CEO respondents said a recession would increase need or demand for their programs and services. Yet only one-third of respondents said their organization had a plan for how it would handle a recession.

Earned revenue is one strategy that can give organizations more financial stability and help strengthen an organization’s impact. Of course, it’s not for every organization, and it’s not a quick fix. It can take years to implement. Though nonprofits must focus on immediate needs now, there’s also an opportunity to think differently about how to sustain the work long-term.

We developed a field guide for nonprofits considering earned-revenue opportunities and funders looking to support grantees in doing so. The field guide includes a set of four case studies about how nonprofits have developed and implemented earned-revenue strategies. We hope this field guide will help you:

  • Ask the right questions to understand if an earned-revenue strategy is the right approach for your organization right now,
  • Get a glimpse into the process of developing an earned-revenue strategy that helps your organization achieve greater impact, and
  • Learn from other nonprofits that have gone through this process in different contexts.

Download Earned Revenue Strategies: A Field Guide


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


Q&A: Network-Based Strategy

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Nonprofit strategy is hard. To do it well, we must make tough decisions and trade-offs. Yet the data we have access to don’t always tell a clear story, and every stakeholder has a different idea of what we should do. On top of this, policies, the economy, and technologies around us are changing so quickly. I know these struggles because I’ve been there myself, and at Community Wealth Partners, we’ve worked with hundreds of nonprofits as they’ve navigated these questions.

The good news is that again and again, we see examples of how the nonprofits we partner with are adopting strategies that are leading to greater impact. We recently launched a strategy newsletter to give you another place to explore the complex work of creating strategies that are bold and possible, to learn from our team, and to hear what peers are doing.

In our newsletter, we responded to a question we hear often from clients. Below, I’ve shared that question and my response. If you find this post valuable, please consider subscribing to our strategy newsletter. Reach out to me with your questions, topics you’d like to see us cover, or stories and resources you’d like to share.


QUESTION: My organization plays a coordinating role within a large, national network. We realize our role is needed and helpful, yet we feel like we are becoming the de facto “hub,” which limits opportunities for learning across the network. We’d like to see a more decentralized approach so that network members can learn from one another. How can we help network members better connect with each other?


Amy Celep (CEO): You’re absolutely right. When network members connect with each other, they can exchange ideas and insights to work more effectively. I’ll offer three recommendations and one example for how you can help network members connect with each other.

  1. Be explicit about your desire for network members to learn and share with each other. This will help them feel ownership of the network’s learning.
  2. Take time to understand your network’s learning needs and expectations. You’ve probably spent a lot of time doing this, but challenge what you’ve learned to date. Ask new questions, send new messengers, and test possible learning structures with network members. Make sure you can resource and sustain whatever learning structures you decide to create, and be transparent if you’re piloting something that you may not continue to support.
  3. Foster a culture of learning and information sharing. To do that, partner with some of the network’s most influential members to co-create structures and processes that enable learning and meet your network’s needs. Based on what network members share, you might build – and resource – peer learning groups, coaching relationships, and other intentional structures for network members to connect with and learn from each other.

One example of what this can look like comes from the national nonprofit FoodCorps, which works with an aligned-action network of independent partners. As Director of Impact Eva Ringstrom shared in this webinar, at each of FoodCorps’ in-person gatherings, they design opportunities for network members to identify the topics that matter most to them – regardless of whether those topics are directly connected to FoodCorp’s work – and they dedicate time for learning and sharing on those topics. We often overlook opportunities to create space for others to learn and share, and it takes humility to put decision-making power into network members’ hands.

Learn more about network strategy in our field guide and watch our webinar here and below.