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March Must-Reads

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This month, we came across a report that sparked conversations about funders’ unintended impact on movements. We also were drawn to articles about equitably engaging communities, a practical guide to building strong leadership development programs, and a report drawing a clear correlation between housing costs and health.

What caught your attention this month?

1. How “movement capture” shaped the fight for civil rights

SYSTEMS CHANGE | Vox | 7-minute read

When social movements get investments from foundations, that’s a good thing – right? A new paper by Megan Ming Francis at the University of Washington suggests there might be unintended consequences to funders’ good intentions. Francis uses the NAACP as an example: The organization initially focused on anti-black violence, but when the Garland Fund expressed interest in funding education, the organization shifted its priorities, ultimately leading to the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case but delaying anti-lynching laws. To avoid “movement capture,” Francis argues, funders must “consciously prioritize the voices of people on the ground” and “be more willing to make grants that may not immediately produce an obvious, palatable win they can present to their board.” If you’re a more auditory learner, listen to this Tiny Spark podcast interview with Francis about the topic.

2. Empower, Change, Transform: A guide to building a successful leadership development program

LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMS | Schusterman Family Foundation and Rockwood Leadership Institute | 33-minute read

There are many leadership development programs out there, but there’s little evaluation data about them. After the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation and Rockwood Leadership Institute independently worked with the research firm Learning For Action to evaluate their leadership development programs, they realized they could learn from each other’s data and experiences. In this guide, the organizations share stories and five evaluation findings that might help others managing similar programs:

  • Set the stage for vulnerability
  • Focus on emotional intelligence
  • Be intentional about relationship building
  • Design the right coaching experience
  • Encourage sector and cross-sector collaboration

3. Equitable Big Bets for Marginalized Communities

EQUITY | Stanford Social Innovation Review | 8-minute read

The idea of making “big bets,” or large investments, has been around for years, yet that funding tends to go to white-led organizations. To truly change systems, philanthropy must make big bets in organizations led by the communities most affected by injustice, argue the authors, David Bley of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Vu Le of Rainier Valley Corps and NonprofitAF.com. In this article, they share one example of how this can be done: the Gates Foundation’s investment in Rainier Valley Corps. They walk through how they partnered to understand risk, build trust, experiment, and practice transparency with each other. The case study ends with six recommendations to foundations ready to invest in equity:

  • Provide significant multiyear investment
  • Focus on relationships
  • Constantly communicate
  • Be flexible on timelines and milestones
  • Take risks, accept failure
  • Capture lessons learned

4. The healthiest communities in the U.S. are the ones where people can afford homes

HEALTH | Fast Company | 5-minute read

There is a clear correlation between the prevalence of housing cost burdens and negative health outcomes, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s 2019 County Health Rankings. The counties where the highest percentage of households struggle with housing costs also show higher rates of child poverty, food insecurity, and poor overall health among adults. In addition to emphasizing the importance of good and affordable housing, this article highlights some housing-focused initiatives that have resulted in better health outcomes for communities, including the Missouri-based alliance 24:1 and Kaiser Permanente’s investment in affordable housing.

5. Community Mapping — Building Power and Agency with Data

COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT | Urban Institute | 5-minute read

Communities hold tremendous knowledge and expertise. How can you directly involve them in generating and processing data? One model is community mapping, in which community members collect spatial data on their neighborhood or city – data like vacant or blighted housing, sidewalk or roadway conditions, or flood damage. The DC Preservation Network, a project co-sponsored by the Coalition of Non-Profit Housing and Economic Development and the Urban Institute, shares how they pair on-the-ground expertise with other types of data to learn things they wouldn’t otherwise and position communities to tell their own stories.

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