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PART TWO – How Funders Can Strengthen Connections To Community

Posted by on Sep 22, 2020 in Articles, Blog

PART TWO – How Funders Can Strengthen Connections To Community

Calibrating Your Role for Success September 15, 2020 David Moore, Jeff Glebocki As practitioners, advisors and consultants to funders, conveners and conductors of community collaboration, we have observed collaboration and collective impact in communities across the country. From our on-the-ground experience, we have seen it done well, and not so well. The first of this two-blog series provided several guideposts for how funders can better see the communities they are working in, and how to be more effective in managing their community relationships. This second blog considers how funders can best calibrate their leadership roles for greater success. Think carefully about your role Take what you learned about the community and carefully consider the role you should play to move forward on an issue. To quote a neighborhood leader, “Sometimes you are the sage on the stage, sometimes you are the guide on the side.” Develop your ability to know how and when to be the leader, to bring people along—and to know when you should step back and be a coach, advisor and cheerleader to others. Observe how you are navigating these roles, and building your acumen in shifting those roles depending on how the work progresses. Pay attention to money’s influence When and how resources enter the conversation changes how people behave. You have to find resources to cover the time and energy of people coming together to get started. But dangling too many resources can artificially drive pseudo-collaboration. If you lead with too much, too fast, people will collaborate to get access to money. If the community hadn’t cared about an issue before a foundation said they will spend money, proceed cautiously. Collaboration that follows money is rarely going to work. Collaboration that forms to address an issue can more effectively take advantage of resources, and it has a better chance of sustaining effort. Make sure money is fuel for people already committed to an effort versus using money to ask people to commit. Create a sense of possibility Too often, leaders who step up to tackle something complicated hear: “This won’t work, it can’t work. We tried it before. Why bother?” If a community stays stuck without a sense of possibility, you won’t make progress. When you hear leaders say, “We just have to accept that many kids cannot graduate from high school,” for example, you have to be ready to say, “Really, are we okay with this?” Use data, information and storytelling to create a sense of possibility and belief. You may sometimes have to be that aspirational, charismatic person to create the possibility. Look for other leaders who are doing great work in isolation, and bring them in to help you create the spirit of potential success. Use stories from other communities and drive a new optimism that overcomes the “stuckness.” Balance patience with urgency and commitment As you identify a challenge and engage others to work on it, you may feel a personal sense of urgency to see change. But if you push too hard on a community without resources and capacity, you can stall out before you start. Consider what a community can envision and manage. Maintain a sense of urgency that there is an important challenge and there is progress.  If you don’t maintain that sense of importance and urgency, people will fall away. It’s also easy to get excited about being a part of starting something new, or working with a dynamic new leader. But what happens after the buzz wears off? Are you going to stick with it?  We have to be willing to see long term and keep work moving. With resources and the ability to navigate risk, we can see effort sustained. The key to pulling this off is to keep your support sustained over time. Be in it for the long haul, and show that the resources and support aren’t going away, even when things falter or the inevitable bumps in the road push things off course for a minute. Consider your time frame You might also start to think differently about time. Private sector development...

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How Funders Can Strengthen Connections To Community

Posted by on Sep 15, 2020 in Articles, Blog

How Funders Can Strengthen Connections To Community

Exponent Philanthropy just published the first of a two-part series on how funders can better connect to the communities they work in.  The series was co-authored by colleague David Moore (Moore Strategic Consulting) and myself.  Here is the first installment.  Part 1: How Funders Can Strengthen Connections To Community; Seeing Your Community and Navigating Relationships September 11, 2020 David Moore, Jeff GlebockiAs practitioners, advisors and consultants to funders, conveners and conductors of community collaboration, we have observed collaboration and collective impact in communities across the country. From our on-the-ground experience, we have seen it done well, and not so well.In this first of a two-blog series, we’ll provide several guideposts about how funders can better see the communities they are working in and more effectively navigate their relationships in those communities.Identify and understand community knowledgeDon’t assume you have a clear understanding of the everyday reality in a community because you talked to a few people there. You have to dig deep and listen for different kinds of knowledge and experience on issues. Rarely is a problem or a solution so new that no one else has been looking at it. Someone is working on this issue somewhere, maybe in a part of your community you’re less familiar with. Often, as you dig in to first learn about the problem, you will discover different angles, and may well find ways to add value instead of overtaking existing efforts.Seek out data for learningBe careful as you acquire and consider data—we have seen it both over and undervalued. Easy accessibility to data doesn’t mean it’s presented in a way that illuminates the dimensions of community issues. Data has to add meaning, and we have to learn to ask the right questions. We need to use data to check our assumptions and we need to understand what’s really behind the data: Ask for data to be broken down into different subgroups and dimensions. Aggregate city, county, or state data is rarely informative enough to drive a strategy.Go beyond percentages. When somebody tells you 15% of young people have this problem, ask, “Is that 200 people or 20,000?” We miss scale when we’re looking at percentages.Consider cohorts. When your data source includes data over time, be sure to ask to see data on the same people over time. For example, a school that has 50% of kids reading on grade level in 3rd grade, what was that group of kids like when they arrived in Kindergarten? In 1st or 2nd? What has happened to the same kids over time? Avoid “picking winners”When you work to support making collaboration happen, you have to pay close attention to competitive dynamics tied to receiving support. Take your time to find out who is really moving the issue on the ground, not just those who can quickly sound articulate about your challenge. This is a key place to watch your biases on who you know because it’s easy to tap people already in your network. To get collaboration right, you may need to support new partners who can create forward movement.One approach to consider is to follow the lead of the community most effected by the issue. Consider how you can engage community members more authentically in planning, decision-making and the allocation of resources.It’s about relationships built on trustTo move the needle on community issues, we have to build trusting relationships that will sustain change over time. It’s easy to focus on action and results while not tending to the trust building needed to make things last. Take time to create intentional efforts to build trust. Many communities are tired of talking about problems, seeing studies undertaken, and having private and public sector funders come and go—so understand why they may not trust you coming to the table to insert your thinking.Take a cue from international relations, and create confidence building measures. Start by doing small things together; this action itself will help all parties learn how to work together. Measure and monitor these relationships just like you can measure and monitor outcomes. Focus on building trust and relationships...

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Fatigued by School Reform

Posted by on May 13, 2020 in Articles, Blog

Fatigued by School Reform

In his new book, “Fatigued by School Reform,” Jack Jennings calls out policy makers, funders and the school reform movement for missing the target on what really influences student success.I’m very pleased to share my recent interview with Jack about his book, how we got to this moment in history, and his thoughts on what schools and communities face in the disruptions brought by the pandemic we are experiencing.Jack Jennings is the founder and former CEO of the Center on Education Policy, a Washington D.C.-based nonpartisan, nonprofit education research organization established in 1995. From 1967 to 1994, he served as subcommittee staff director and then as a general counsel for the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Education and Labor.In addition to this new book, Jack has written 3 other books on school reform and education policy, as well as many articles for publications such as the Washington Post and Huffington Post. You can learn more about Jack Jennings’ new book, “Fatigued by School Reform” at https://rowman.com/ISBN/9781475851281/Fatigued-by-School-Reform.Q: Your book’s title, “Fatigued by School Reform,” says a lot about the state of education in this country. What motivated you to write the book from this particular perspective, and why at this time?A: In recent years, I have been stumped by the fact that public schools have had fifty years of reform, and yet the majority opinion is that they are worse today than when most people attended school. Why is that so?An opportunity to investigate this phenomenon was given to me by an old friend, who is president of a publishing house. He offered to publish a book if I were to write it.This issue is so important that I don’t regret the year it took me to do this. Q: The book spotlights two of the most influential factors on student success – the background of students’ parents, and teacher quality. For those readers who may be less familiar with the importance of these two factors, would you share some of the research headlines people need to know and understand?A: In 1966, James Coleman, a professor at Johns Hopkins University, conducted a study for the federal government which provided the most in-depth view of the public schools that had been done up to that point in time.The main finding was that the most important factor “by far” indicating a student’s progress in school was the family background of the student. Families with parents having high levels of income, education and job status had children who did well in school. This finding held for these children as a group, not necessarily for each and every student. And, it was downwards from that point. As family income, job status, and education level decreased so did the prospects for the children.The second element indicating a student’s success was the quality of the teachers. An attribute of a teacher of high quality was high verbal ability. This second factor was important in a student’s success but not nearly as important as family background.The other factors in education were not as significant as these two. Spending, curriculum, quality of the buildings, and so forth were below them in the list of factors indicating success.  Q: You’ve also observed that years of school reform have focused on many other things – academic standards, testing, school choice, etc. – but less so on those two most influential factors. How, and why, did so many smart people and organizations get it wrong?A: After its release in 1966, the Coleman report was used by conservatives to oppose higher funding of the schools because increased dollars would not necessarily raise achievement. Liberals used it to promote busing since that would lead to a social mixture with benefits to students from low-income families and no harm to students from higher income households. After the 1970s, other political weapons were found; and the report’s political usefulness declined.Another factor was that dealing with family backgrounds and the quality of teachers are two difficult issues. Simple solutions were not evident; and so, attention drifted to simpler issues.During the last five decades, academics from both liberal and conservative...

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Leading Through the Unexpected

Posted by on Apr 28, 2020 in Articles, Blog

Leading Through the Unexpected

You know the drill – here’s yet another article/blog/webinar about how leaders should be more resilient, more agile, more creative in responding to and managing change.  Well, what happens when the meteor comes crashing through your roof and upends pretty much everything?  Much like the past few months of 2020. Through my work on a special project I’m engaged with for a family foundation, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Scott Sprenger, Dean of the Telitha E. Lindquist College of Arts & Humanities at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah.   He and I have been comparing notes on the “if-and-how” of individuals and organizations adapt to things no one saw coming. Scott shared this article he wrote a few years ago urging college students to learn to expect the unexpected as they consider their majors, careers and their lives ahead.  The themes he calls out on expectations and behaviors around change are something we can all benefit from considering. Of the questions that preoccupy incoming college students — financial, scheduling, housing, belonging — advisors report that the choice of major and career path is the most anxiety-inducing. After all, isn’t choosing the right major the ticket to a successful career and life? Unfortunately, most students feel undue pressure to discover the perfect major. But unless they are headed for specific careers with precise knowledge or licensure requirements, the belief that the major is a direct line to a career is misleading, and a cause of widespread “dysfunction,” according to Stanford professors Bill Burnett and Dave Evans. The problem begins when students pick a major that is misaligned with their aptitudes, interests or personal values, yet they stick with it due to social pressure or a perceived lack of suitable alternatives. To begin to dispel this dysfunctional belief, it is important to realize that the correlation between a major and a specific career is weak, especially in today’s global economy that creates and destroys jobs at an accelerating pace. We know from a LinkedIn study, for example, that recent college graduates will change positions “an average of four times in their first decade out of college.” Moreover, a Federal Reserve Bank of New York study shows that a staggering 73 percent of the nation’s graduates are employed in fields unrelated to their undergraduate major. What should we conclude from these facts? Skeptics will want to argue that universities are failing students by not delivering on an implied “major-to-career” promise. Indeed, a few outspoken politicians around the country have concluded that too many students are choosing the “wrong” major and want to defund majors – or even entire colleges – that do not lead directly to jobs. While the sentiment is perhaps understandable, and university reforms are in order, there is a more accurate way to view this problem: reverse the perspective. If the statistical correlation between choice of major and direct career outcome represents only 27 percent of the college-educated sector of the labor market, why is this minority sector considered the norm? This shift in perspective is potentially liberating for students as it suddenly takes pressure off finding the elusive “perfect” major while widening student focus to the full spectrum of available pathways into the labor market, including those in the liberal arts and social sciences. In this vein, it is also helpful to know that approximately 30 percent of post-collegiate hiring in the U.S. is major-independent and about 70 percent of employers are looking for a hybridity of skills that draw on different academic disciplines and experiences. This is according to the Collegiate Education Research Institute (CERI) at Michigan State University, which conducts an annual survey of 2,000 to 3,000 companies and organizations on topics related to hiring college graduates. An important corollary, then, to the choice of major is an integrated approach to higher education — one that promises maximal entry-level options and the ability to pivot to a new career when market disruption inevitably strikes. An important new report by The National Academies of Sciences – Engineering – Medicine (2018) suggests that even employers in the white-hot STEM market seek agile graduates...

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How Funders are Pivoting Quickly in This Crisis

Posted by on Apr 9, 2020 in Articles, Blog

How Funders are Pivoting Quickly in This Crisis

The past several weeks have seen impressive and quick pivots by many funders adapting to the new environment brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.  Case in point – there are now more than 300 community response and relief funds organized by foundations, United Ways and other organizations. Learn MoreMany funders have streamlined application and reporting requirements, and are making funding available now to their nonprofit partners through flexible payment schedules.  Still others are giving grantees the OK to convert previously-approved project grants to general operating funding.Here are a few recent examples of pivots by funders that have caught my eye.  PS:  If you are a funder who hasn’t yet taken at least some of these steps to support your grantees during these extraordinary times, call me – we need to talk!One of the more humane and grounded messages to grantees comes from a former boss of mine, Dave Abbott, Executive Director at the George Gund Foundation in Cleveland (Learn More): If you have a special purpose or project grant from us and it would be more helpful to use those funds for operations, feel free to do so.  We ask only that you let us know. We are extending grant report due dates until September 30 for those who have an earlier deadline.  And if greater flexibility is needed, we will work with you.  Please ignore any automated notices you may receive from our grants management system. The Lumina Foundation, a national funder, conveyed a similar spirit when President and CEO Jamie Merisotis reached out to their partners: We can talk about adjusting, delaying, or waiving terms and timelines of any grant or contract (including interim and final reports) so that you can put your focus where it needs to be right now. We will do what’s best for you and the work to ensure the continued strength of our partners—and the best outcomes. Jamie’s message also offered to accelerate payments for existing grants to help Lumina’s partners maintain sufficient cash flow.Small- and medium-sized foundations and donors are stepping up to the plate as well in quickly adapting to circumstances and help the nonprofit community: One private foundation I work with doubled the amount of discretionary grants which its board members can make to grantees in need. A family foundation I assist has converted all of its 2020 project grants to general operating grants. Resource Generation is urging young people with means to contribute their stimulus checks to social causes via the Share My Check movement.  Several executives from small- and mid-sized foundations share how their respective organizations are responding to the “now” and preparing for the near-future: “We’ve moved budget allocations around our different programs to provide more flexibility to capitalize on opportunities, and we’ve allocated several hundred thousand dollars for our own rapid-response fund.  Learning from other regional funding models that have been created around the country, we are partnering with our State Department of Education, our regional association of funders, and individual foundations to target support for needs involving remote learning.”   Executive Director, Private Foundation “At this point, we are staying the course, taking a ‘be patient’ approach and maintaining our grant-making budget for the time being.  We’ll be checking in at regular intervals with our investment advisors, of course, and making adjustments as needed going forward.  We are providing flexibility to our grant partners with some modest funding cushions as we can in helping them adapt to the changes they face.  We certainly expect they will be having more challenges as economic conditions worsen – and that we’ll be seeing this reflected in future requests we receive.”  Executive Director, Private...

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5 Things Funders Can Do Right Now to Help Nonprofits During This Crisis

Posted by on Mar 18, 2020 in Articles, Blog

COVID-19:  This story is unfolding by the hour, and we don’t know what the ramifications will be next week, much less six months or a year from now.  Even with the roller-coaster market at play, though, funders have options on how they can best support their grant partners through this crisis.  You and they are, for all practical purposes, in the same boat – so start rowing together with your partners.  Here are five things funders can start with right now. 1. Listen to what your grant partners’ needs are. Even those organizations with risk management and contingency plans will face difficult moments in navigating through these unpredictable times.  Listen to what those programmatic, financial and performance challenges are; collaborate on finding effective responses; and be prepared to offer real-time funding assistance. 2. Explore how to help the people and communities your grantees serve that will need more immediate help. Business and school closures, disruption of services, restricted access to goods and services, unexpected expenses.  Real people’s lives are being negatively affected already, and those with limited resources will face greater struggles.  Consider what creative – and timely – ways you can provide funding to your grant partners to ameliorate the impact on the ground.3. Move money quickly. Foundation application and grant review calendars rarely align with how the real-world operates.  Think about a new (and streamlined!) application and grant review schedule to provide more real-time response to community needs.  Consider moving up grant payment schedules to provide the funding your partners need now.  Does that next grant payment require a progress report first?  Temporarily drop that requirement so your grantees can focus on their work in tackling the substantive challenges this crisis is presenting.  Also, consider converting program grants to general operating support to give your grantees the ability to be more agile in responding to fast moving issues.4. Create a dedicated pool of easily accessible funding. Set aside a substantial pool of grant funds to help your partners weather the spectrum of challenges they are wrestling with – and make those funds available quickly and with less red-tape.  Do they need bridge funding because their big annual fundraiser was cancelled?  Do they need equipment, software or other assistance to quickly switch to remote work or change the way they deliver services?  Have their operational costs jumped because the people they serve have been hit hard financially?  Your quick turn-around in funding can make all the difference between success and failure.5. Be flexible. There’s a good chance your grant partners aren’t going to meet their fundraising goals this year, nor fulfill everything they had hoped to do in their strategic plans.  They are also likely to have a new bundle of unforeseen issues on their plates that will complicate their year’s accomplishments.  You can still meet your fiduciary responsibilities at the same time as right-sizing your expectations and simplifying your grant...

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