Data - Data - Data everywhere!
May 31st, 2007
While we have a great deal of information on community issues, a question recently raised at a local meeting was - - - do we use it? I referenced this in a blog entry back in April. This question was asked after we were discussing the development and progress of the Kent School Services Network which is one of the most collaborative programs ever created in our area involving key county services, nonprofit agency engagement and foundation and other private funders. And you know how this massive effort started? With DATA! We mapped the services delivered around various school sites and made key decisions about which schools were going to be pilot schools. Plus we have funding for evaluation which is underway. That's DATA! We also had spent time during that meeting reviewing evaluation data on this county's prevention efforts and using that data to make the decision to dig in and understand it better! That's using data. A few weeks ago I also wrote about a process that GRCF staff along with the Community Research Institute at Grand Valley State University have been developing for more than five years and testing for the past 18 months intended to measure grant impact and ultimately impact on key areas that we have identified as priorities for this Foundation. The world of organized philanthropy is constantly on the hunt for systems of measurement. Transparency and accountability lead the list of "hot" topics these days. It is critical and this Foundation is on the leading edge of the use of data for making decisions - and we are wise and humble enough to know that we have a long way to go. This isn't just a turnkey process - it isn't that easy. But anything of worth isn't easy! Takes brainpower and resources and frankly a very patient board of trustees who have had faith in us. (Thanks to all of our trustees!) Last week at our Resource (grantmaking) Committee, a Eureka moment occurred. After hearing an analysis report about a grant proposal that addresses infant mortality and listening intently to a report that used data about the success of the services after many years in operation, our committee chair exclaimed "then why aren't we giving them more money?" The answer - because it would take millions of dollars to really reach out to key groups in the community. Not a startling sum frankly and something we will act on but after I literally levitated in my chair and could have hugged the chair (not terribly professional!), I realized that we are on to something and that our community leaders are ready and bold enough to act! Why? Because we use data to make decisions. Because we know that acting on that data is the critical piece. Many communities have data systems but not every community has the resource sitting right in their area like we do with the Community Research Institute. It takes adaptive and bold leadership to act on data. Not more meetings - not moaning about "why doesn't anyone do anything about this" - but action! More to come!
Community Foundations = Positive Leadership
May 5th, 2007I am getting ready to teach community foundation staff and board members from Indiana the "basics" of what the world of community foundations is all about. For three days, participants will be guided through the maze of issues such as the importance of good governance, stewardship, grantmaking, community leadership, accountability, history, finance and investment practices - the entire gamut. I'm team teaching with Mike Batchelor who is the President of The Erie Community Foundation in Erie, Pennsylvania. He is a remarkable leader who is bright, energetic, and has a great sense of humor.
And the Council on Foundations calls this course "Community Foundation Fundamentals". Deadly? Dry? Get out the snooze patrol? Hardly!
I have been teaching this course for four years and it is a part of an entire series provided through the Center for Community Foundation Excellence of the Council on Foundations (COF) based in Washington D.C. The courses are a result of a great deal of hard work that we did as a field in the late 1990s and earlier in this decade to create a strong curriculum to help guide staff and board through the growing complexities of leading a community foundation.
It isn't for the faint of heart - - - running a community foundation that is. In the twenty years I have been privileged to be the President of this foundation, change is more the norm than status quo. In the beginning days of my tenure, I certainly leaned a great deal on my predecessor Pat Edison who has great insight and wisdom - I still call on her from time to time! Also the Foundation board members were a strong reference point. Norm DeGraaf was the board chair back then and he had the patience to guide me as I introduced a number of changes in foundation operations. He often told me - just go for one victory a board meeting and keep a steady pace. He also advised - don't give up!
I also had the infamous fiery red Handbook for Community Foundations published by the Council on Foundations in 1977 written by the "father" of community foundations - Eugene Struckhoff who also served as the president of the Council more than 25 years ago. The book was brimming with all aspects of operating a community foundation. It was an invaluable resource but what it lacked was the human interaction and all the tools we rely on today - instant answers on a listserv, podcasts of seminars, webinairs and the like. However, I was glued to that book in the beginning!
The people who attend the courses like the one I am teaching will encounter some answers, more questions and will have the opportunity to share information and network. They will form relationships and that is what is so critical to our ultimate success - being able to connect with others to counter that feeling that "no one has ever experienced" this before and find fellow members of our field who can support others!
So here's to three days of learning, laughter and delving into my favorite work - teaching about the phenomenal work of the growing field of community foundations. I feel that community foundations are the locus of community leadership in our country and definitely spreading globally.
To fund or not fund - that is ultimately the question
May 3rd, 2007I relish feedback about the Foundation. No person or organization is immune to both negative and positive comment. It is the only way I can learn about the perceptions that people have about the community foundation.
One perception that lingers in spite of reality, is that the Foundation does not fund faith based organizations. What many may not realize is that a majority of human service agencies have been or are formed by churches or other congregations. The way social services were delivered in our country prior to the creation of the Social Security system in the 1930's, was through churches.
Indeed in our community, many congregations are deeply involved in the delivery of services. I have been around for a long time . . . and remember the many meetings in the 1970's about how to better organize basic services through churches and we fast forward to 2007 and this continues. In fact, this isn't a new phenomenon; just one that sees a resurgence from time to time. I think it is great that this occurs! We certainly know that the government can't do it all and that the nonprofit and faith based communities are needed and welcome.
That brings me to the criticism stating that the Grand Rapids Community Foundation does not fund Christian based organizations - that is the more specific comment. We don't hear much from persons who practice other faith systems. However, we know that there are a multiplicity of faiths in this community - Jewish, Buddhism, Muslim and many, many more.
We are not a private foundation who can determine a specific faith group for focus; we represent the entire community and need to assure that our funding will go to organizations that serve all people and will not force their beliefs on persons seeking their services.
Another comment is that we may not fund organizations that have the word Christian in their name. That is simply not the case. Take the case of Wedgwood Christian Services and the following comes directly from their website: Wedgwood Christian Services is a distinctively Christian, professionally excellent community of caring, dedicated to helping young people live productive and fulfilling lives. What I am impressed by is this statement that Wedgwood makes very clearly: We don't push our beliefs on anyone, but we do believe our faith has a lot to do with the energy and commitment that makes us the last best hope for some of the most challenging cases.
The Foundation has provided more than $100,000 toward their innovative school "Lighthouse Academy" focusing on youth who need the special attention that Wedgwood can offer and help students to excel in an environment that supports their success. In fact, in the past decade, more than $6.4 million has been expended to organizations that are known as Christian based, faith based, "religious" organizations.
So if you are wondering why - it is because these organizations provided quality, needed services without proselytizing. We respect all faiths, all facets of our human existence. If your organization was denied by the Foundation, don't lean on the notion that it was because we don't fund Christian and/or faith based organizations. It may be because you want others to believe in what you believe or that you require people to sign their names to the fact that they are practicing a particular faith in order to receive services. OR more to the point, your request may not fit our priorities or is not a well thought out proposal. We are open to all and want to assure that access to all is demonstrated by the programs and organizations we fund.
If you have any questions, by all means let me hear them!