With one-third of Americans still lacking broadband Internet connections at home, access to the internet is often considered an equity issue. Yet programs aimed at narrowing the digital divide may leave their strongest legacies in the areas of community and economic development. Online access is a gateway to opportunities in education, workforce, and health, and other areas that increasingly depend on digital access and digital skills.
I see collaborative work and outcomes management as two sides of the same “working smarter” coin. I discussed outcomes management in my first post in this series, and my organization, Venture Philanthropy Partners (VPP), has embraced its importance. VPP is committed to learning from our work, and although the nonprofit partnerships we fund have been successful, we recognize there is more we can do with the resources available. By tracking and assessing our progress along the way, we have seen that the best way to “work smarter” is through collaborative action. Without the first side of the coin—outcomes management, we would not have reached the other side—collaboration. Without collaboration, the data we collect is too limited to get a full picture of our region and what its children and youth need.
On April 18, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan visited Dubuque, Iowa to launch the Together for Tomorrow campaign. I was honored to share the stage with him and highlight the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque’s recent work on a third grade reading initiative with our school district and numerous other local partners.
Foundations in New Orleans, Los Angeles, and Detroit have faced conditions before and after crises that are all but unimaginable. For example, Detroit has enough vacant and unused land to fit inside San Francisco, more vacant land than any city in the U.S. except for post-Katrina New Orleans, a poverty rate of 38 percent, and a labor force participation rate of 50 percent, the lowest in the nation. What can foundations do with such a challenge?
If there is an epicenter of the decline of a city and its loss of an economic base, the candidates start with Detroit, where the population has plummeted 25 percent in the last decade to 714,000–this for a city whose population was 1.85 million in 1950. The city now has an extraordinarily high poverty rate, massive tracts of vacant land, and empty housing. Or maybe the epicenter was New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city and region, taking a particularly hard toll on the region’s poor. Or maybe it was Los Angeles two decades ago, convulsed by the “disturbances” in South Central that the community divided by race and ethnicity.
This year’s Paul Ylvisaker Public Policy Award winner, Linda Reed, president and CEO of the Montana Community Foundation, delivered a formal talk on the relationship of rural philanthropy and public policy. Given that Reed was talking about Montana, where there are only three communities with populations above 50,000, almost anything she might have addressed could be given a rural cast. But everything she talked about could have just as easily been a model or perhaps a prescription for any philanthropic leader or institution interested in addressing public policy issues.
Especially in our current funding climate, partnership and authentic engagement with those we seek to serve is critical to ensuring that limited philanthropic resources are invested wisely and deliver the greatest possible impact for those most in need.
The nonprofit sector as a whole has the opportunity to harness the power of innovation to improve the quality of service delivery.” That’s one of the key findings from “Unleashing Innovation: Using Everyday Technology to Improve Nonprofit Services,”a new research report from MAP for Nonprofits funded by the ADC Foundation and researched by Idealware.
Over the past six years, I’ve had the privilege of working closely with a set of small, young community foundations in under-resourced parts of California as they aim to grow faster, smarter, and increase the positive impact they are having in their communities. With Irvine’s Community Foundations Initiative II (CFI II), I have learned one indelible lesson from these small but mighty organizations: take a deep breath and try it.
In the United States, community foundations serve tens of thousands of people, administer more than $49 billion in charitable funds, and address the core concerns of more than 725 communities and regions.