Spending $10million - how would you measure impact?
February 18th, 2008How would you spend more than $10M? Would you try to make a dent in difficult problems like poverty, hunger, child abuse? What impact could you really have? How would you know if the programs created to address these issues really work?
Many foundations are under scrutiny not only to assure that their finances are in order but also to prove that what they fund is relevant and that there is a positive impact in their communities or throughout the country. But what can $10M really do?
For community foundations it isn't just about the money, it is also the leadership that they can exercise to have greater influence and leverage. Partnering with other funders, public sector officials, and other community leaders increases the ability to have impact. However, this isn't always the case as I have experienced over my time at the Grand Rapids Community Foundation. Depends a great deal of the willingness of all partners to stay on target and not be distracted by other seemingly attractive efforts.
In the past few years, this foundation has spent close to $10M on public education and most of it directed at the Grand Rapids Public Schools. Have we received a good return on that investment? We have isolated success stories to tell through our 21 year old "Excellence in Education" program which honors teachers and students who have great ideas and plans at the classroom level to implement. We have isolated success stories to tell through our Youth Enrichment Scholarship Program that focuses attention on students who may not also have a chance to spread their wings exploring the worlds of music, computers and the like.
When I read Dr. Bernard Taylor's state of the schools address given on Saturday, February 9th, I was heartened by his account of trends in the district that suggest that some schools are increasing their achievement levels. I was disheartened to read that he was noting that assaults are down in schools - not disheartened by the fact that they are decreasing but by the fact that there are assaults.
How can we measure the performance of this school district without the leaders getting defensive? How can we measure the performance of this school district when there isn't consensus on the vision? Is doing okay acceptable? More on this in future posts. . . .