Grantmakers Need to Rethink How to Scale What Works to Increase Impact

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Mike Gallagher, CMF Editorial Correspondent

Grantmakers looking to grow social impact are beginning to embrace a new approach to tackling the tough challenges facing their communities. At the center of this for many foundations is scaling, how best to redefine it for maximum impact, and how best to lift up promising and proven ideas to find answers to decades-old social problems.

According to Meghan Duffy, director of programs for Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO), grantmakers traditionally define scaling as supporting program replication or organizational growth.  But a GEO initiative launched in 2010 and completed last year called “Scaling What Works” has found that there are many ways to grow impact, including advocating for policy change, transferring technology or skills and spreading new ideas or innovations.

Duffy recently shared GEO’s findings at the Council of Michigan Foundation’s (CMF) 2014 annual conference during a session entitled: “Rethinking How Grantmakers Support Scale.”  Duffy was joined on the panel by Jennifer Callans, Ph.D., social innovation fund director for United Way for Southeastern Michigan, and Carla Roberts, president/CEO, Fremont Area Community Foundation (FACF).

“All foundations say that scaling up solutions is part of what they do and all want their grantees to have greater impact,” said Duffy. “Traditionally this has meant supporting grantees to replicate their programs and grow their organizations so they can serve more people or broaden their reach in other ways.”

But growing impact, noted Duffy, “is less about growing the size of a program or organization than it is about leveraging resources and relationships to achieve better results.”

According to the findings in GEO’s “Rethinking How Grantmakers Support Scale”, Duffy said her organization believes there are four fundamental grantmaker practices that are crucial to success, regardless of how a grantmaker defines growing impact. These practices, according to Duffy and the GEO report, include:

  • Providing flexible funding in appropriate amounts over the long term.
  • Funding data and performance management capabilities.
  • Considering supporting movements as well as organizations.
  • Invest in capacity building and leadership development that help organizations grow impact.

As an example of the ongoing scaling and impact effort under way in southeast Michigan, United Way’s Callan highlighted her organization’s work funded by the White House-supported Social Innovation Fund created to identify evidence of success in social programs; determine those that work best; and then increase the capacity and scale of those programs.

“Our (United Way) fund is focused on kindergarten readiness in high-need communities throughout Oakland, Wayne and Macomb counties,” said Callan. “Our goal is to build a path to school success.

“We now have eight funding partners. To do this work, we’ve established programs that impact kids’ nutrition, we incorporate the arts into pre-literacy activities, and we have parent coaches go to homes of neighborhood families,” she added.

“We are increasing the capacity and scale of these programs through rigorous evaluations, and cash match, and we all have to participate in knowledge sharing, we all have to advance our evidence.”

FACF Making the Impossible a Reality

The Fremont Area Community Foundation’s Roberts said her foundation has been thinking about impact a great deal.

“We’ve been reinventing ourselves as a model for a community foundation, one that is relationship-oriented and based on the power of personal action and partnerships to make what is impossible a reality in our community.”

“All this is done in the context of an (internal) document called ‘The Mark We Make; A Declaration.’ This is a value statement about our community foundation. So our mark is no longer just about financial capital, but several different types of capital that we do raise in our community: moral or spiritual capital; the idea/intellectual capital; social capital, and experiential capital.

“But overall we want to create the connection, or the cultural capital, that is always promoting a culture of philanthropy that is collectively held in our community,” said Roberts.

“FACF is continually thinking, acting and investing with the intent of going beyond good deeds and increasing our social impact. We all make a difference when we work together. We make our most vulnerable citizens equal partners with those who bring the time, the talent and the treasure and that has led us into a lot of resident engagement.”

“Our strategic grantmaking is really organized around three countywide, pretty audacious decade-goals: We want reduce poverty below the national average; we want to reduce unemployment below the national average; and we want to increase post-secondary achievement above 60%.”

Those goals were established in response to a series of community forums, surveys and convenings that stretch back to 2003 “and our community partners (grantees) are aligned with us. That has led to our ongoing success,” said Roberts.

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