3 Lessons Funders Can Learn From School Improvement

Posted by on Dec 6, 2016 in Articles, Blog | 0 comments

By Jeff Glebocki, Founder & Lead Advisor
Strategy + Action/Philanthropy
jeff@strategyplusaction.com

 

Through my adventures in education grantmaking, I’ve seen the research on and the realities of replicating successful school improvement models. Ringo Starr was right when he said, “it don’t come easy.”

 

Regardless of your funding priorities – education or not – there are three key lessons funders can learn from the challenges of replication.

 

ONE: Know what works in your chosen focus area and use all the proven tools and techniques required for success. Schools, communities, and funders will gravitate towards a strategy or model that’s been shown to work with the hope of replicating success in their own situations.

 

Time and again, though, those same schools, communities and funders will cherry-pick the components of that successful approach – whether for budget or timing reasons, or the (often mistaken) belief that their conditions are unique and call for a specialized effort. The result, of course, is that the model – or more accurately, the now revised and not fully functional approach – doesn’t achieve the envisioned success. This is the equivalent of a McDonald’s franchise deciding not to offer fries on the menu, and then wondering why sales are so flat!

 

TWO: Provide sufficient development, training and resources to your staff, your board and your grant partners to get the job done correctly. Ensure that your board and staff know how different models and strategies work (and don’t work), know the right questions to ask, and know how and when to make mid-course corrections.

 

Equally important is making available the financial and technical assistance to your grant partners so they can accomplish what they – and you – have set out to achieve. Inadequate funding for operations, staff training, capital and other needs is setting up a scenario for challenges and failure, not opportunity and success.

 

To borrow the McDonald’s analogy again – not only did the franchise choose not to sell fries, but it hasn’t dedicated training and resource so staff knows how to work the equipment properly to provide meals to customers. And they are still wondering why sales are so flat!

 

THREE: Find what works and stick with it. Even the most promising strategy or model needs time to take root. People and organizations often adapt slowly to change, and results don’t happen overnight.

 

Yet again, it’s not at all unusual for schools, communities and funders to allow insufficient time for a program or strategy to mature. If not enough progress is being made in the short-term, then let’s dump this approach and look for a newer model to follow!

 

The foundation field has long exhibited its own form of attention deficit disorder. Passing grantmaking fads, shifting grant priorities and unfocused funding strategies undermine the work of funders and grant partners alike. To our McDonald’s analogy – the franchise decided not to sell fries and didn’t train staff on restaurant operations resulting in poor sales. After a while, the only option is to stop trying the McDonald’s approach. How about Burger King!

 

Learn more about how Strategy + Action/Philanthropy has helped foundations, nonprofits and institutions follow these lessons to achieve greater impact.