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Learning Together: Cohort-Based Capacity Building and the Ripple Effects of Collaboration

August 1, 2019

Foundations frequently commission evaluations and are the primary audiences for findings. Grantee organizations, however, often don't see the results, or they find in them limited value and relevance to their own work. Funders like the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation are quietly disrupting this status quo by exploring ways to fully engage grantees, co-funders, technical consultants, and evaluators in collective learning and reflection.The foundation's comprehensive, cohort-based capacity-building program, PropelNext, was designed to enhance the performance of promising nonprofits that serve America's disadvantaged youth. With a combination of financial support, individualized coaching, and peer-learning sessions, grantees engage in a test-and-learn cycle to promote a culture of learning and continuous improvement.This article explores what collaborative learning looks like in the PropelNext context and how foundations can "practice what they preach" by modeling a reflective practice, sharing what they're learning, and supporting evaluations that surface information that is useful to everyone. It also discusses findings related to collaborative learning for both a regionally based and a nationally based cohort. Finally, it highlights specific strategies and tools to promote collaborative learning and to leverage peer networks in ways that can accelerate change, strengthen funder-grantee interactions, and advance the field.

PropelNext Alumni Study: The Road to High Performance

June 1, 2018

The Edna McConnell Clark Foundation (EMCF) makes large, long-term investments to help high-performing nonprofits scale evidence-based programs that improve the lives of disadvantaged children and youth. In 2012, EMCF launched PropelNext to strengthen the next tier of organizations whose programs had not yet been fully codified. Informed by research and hands-on experience in organizational effectiveness and performance management, EMCF developed PropelNext as an intensive, cohort-based, capacity-building program designed to enhance the effectiveness of promising nonprofits serving America's disadvantaged youth. Through PropelNext, cohorts of grantees participate in a structured three-year program supported by a team of experienced consultants that helps grantees build the knowledge, infrastructure, and practices to become data-driven learning organizations. EMCF believes that supporting youth-serving organizations to use data will strengthen their programs and ultimately improve outcomes for youth.The first national cohort of 12 organizations completed the PropelNext program in 2015. To better understand the impact of PropelNext and how it contributes to improved organizational performance, EMCF partnered with Harder+Company Community Research and Engage R+D to assess post-program progress, achievements, and challenges. The 18-month study triangulates data from diverse sources including in-depth site visits, document review including data reports, surveys, interviews, and focus groups with organizational leaders, middlemanagers, front-line staff, board members, partners, and funders. This report summarizes key insights and findings and is designed to capture the journey of grantees as they continue to cultivate a learning culture and to embed performance management practices into their organizational DNA. Given the evolving nature of the capacity-building field, the study also elevates promising practices and effective ways to help nonprofits use data for continuous learning and improved performance.

Sustaining Change: PropelNext Alumni Results One Year Later

April 1, 2017

In 2012, the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation (EMCF) launched PropelNext to support promising nonprofits in strengthening their capacity to use data for learning, self-evaluation, and ongoing improvement. The first national cohort of grantees completed the program in 2015, and EMCF is conducting a study with alumni organizations to understand how PropelNext contributes to increased capacity and organizational performance over time. This learning brief highlights key insights and reflections from focus groups with CEOs and Executive Directors, and phone interviews with program and operational leaders from grantee organizations in late 2016.

A Midpoint Report on the True North Fund

February 23, 2014

In July 2010, the Social Innovation Fund (SIF) awarded the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation (EMCF) $10 million (the first of three $10 million awards) to increase the scale and impact of youth development organizations whose programs have been shown to produce positive outcomes in communities of need across the United States. EMCF and its co-investors are tackling the immense problems confronting America's low-income youth -- for example, more than 22 percent of all children in the U.S. live in poverty, and 30 percent of public school students fail to graduate from high school, leading to a lack of educational success and employment among youth and young adults across the country. In 2011, EMCF launched the True North Fund (TNF) to aggregate private growth capital in support of nine initial (and subsequently three additional) SIF grantees. EMCF matched the $10 million in federal funds from the SIF 1:1 with its own funds and then, in collaboration with the TNF co-investors and grantees, helped raise the remaining 2:1 match to meet the SIF's 3:1 match requirement. EMCF also provided the grantees with additional supports, including assistance with business planning from the Bridgespan Group and with evaluation planning and implementation from MDRC, and access to executive and leadership coaching.Through the TNF, EMCF and its co-investors' goals are to: Significantly increase the numbers of youth served by effective programs;Support rigorous independent evaluations that help youth-serving organizations and the field advance evidence of programmatic effectiveness in ways that strengthen and improve programs as they grow; Demonstrate a more efficient and effective method of organizing private and public capital on behalf of low-income youth; and Encourage by example and advocacy fundamental change in how public and private capital is deployed to scale what works.This report reflects the experience of the nine initial TNF grantees. In 2013, EMCF selected three additional TNF grantees: PACE Center for Girls, WINGS for kids, and Youth Guidance.Two years after launching the initiative, EMCF commissioned this midpoint report on the TNF to answer the following questions:What progress did the TNF grantees make during the first two years?What has been the TNF co-investors' experience to date?What insights can the TNF grantees, EMCF and co-investors share with funders and policymakers at midpoint?This report summarizes high-level themes that emerged from a review of the TNF literature and telephone interviews with EMCF senior management, EMCF's strategic collaborators, nine TNF grantees, and 12 of the 15 co-investors. It is not meant to be a formal evaluation or exhaustive review with deep analyses of grantee outcomes and accomplishments. Rather, it takes the temperature of the TNF at midpoint in order to inform EMCF and its co-investors, and share with the public some early lessons learned. EMCF expects to publish more detailed, in-depth findings after the initiative concludes in 2015 -- 16.

The Edna McConnell Clark Foundation's Youth Development Fund: Results and Lessons from the First Ten Years

September 12, 2013

In 1999, the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation (EMCF) began an experiment that would ultimately reinvent its grantmaking. Starting with three grantees, it tested an approach for improving the life prospects of disadvantaged young people by investing heavily in the capacity of nonprofits to "scale up" programs of proven effectiveness. For the past 10 years, conducting more than 150 confidential interviews with leaders of more than 40 grantees, we have provided the Foundation ongoing feedback about the effects -- intended and unintended -- of its grantmaking. For this paper, we returned to our archive of interviews and examined the Foundation's own performance data to consider two questions:Have the Foundation's grantees moved the needle -- with greater scale and impact -- in improving the life prospects of vulnerable youth? What lessons can be drawn from EMCF's experiences -- positive and negative -- to inform others in the field?This paper has three parts: 1 An overview of the grantmaking strategy the Foundation adopted in 1999; 2 A summary of grantee progress in achieving the scale and impact that are the goals of EMCF's grants; and 3 Lessons and reflections on key aspects of the Foundation's approach.

An Experiment in Scaling Impact: Assessing the Growth Capital Aggregation Pilot

December 1, 2012

This report presents an assessment of the Growth Capital Aggregation Pilot. It was commissioned by the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, founder and lead investor of the grantmaking initiative.Starting in 2000, The Edna McConnell Clark Foundation (Clark) adopted an investment approach to grantmaking that focused on providing growth capital to youth-serving organizations with demonstrated commitments to evaluation and measurable outcomes. For grantees, the strategy meant larger, longer-term, unrestricted investments, complemented by extensive access to consulting and technical assistance to strengthen their organizations.This approach helped Clark grantees across the portfolio increase the numbers of youth they served (for example, by 18 percent between 2005 and 2006) and achieve annual revenue gains (averaging 19 percent over the four years prior to the founding of GCAP). At the same time, the Foundation concluded that more capital would be required if its grantees and other promising youth-serving organizations were to realize their ultimate scale and sustainability potential.

Scaling What Works: Implications for Philanthropists, Policymakers, and Nonprofit Leaders

April 20, 2009

Offers insights into scaling nonprofit programs, including the need for rigorous impact analyses, more focused funding patterns, capacity building, and research and evaluation, as guidance for government investment and for partnerships with philanthropy.

An Experiment in Coordinated Investment: A Progress Report on the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation's Growth Capital Aggregation Pilot

October 28, 2008

Outlines EMCF's pilot program to raise, with co-investors, upfront growth capital to support proven programs for low-income youth; demonstrate how such capital can expand programs and leverage funding; and test a model of collaborative philanthropy.

Edna McConnell Clark Foundation - 2007 Annual Report

July 24, 2008

Contains president's message, program information, grantees' performance summaries, grants list, financial statements, and lists of board members and staff.

An Experiment in Coordinated Investment

January 1, 2008

A progress report on the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation's Growth Capital Aggregation Pilot program.

Edna McConnell Clark Foundation - 2006 Annual Report

July 24, 2007

Contains president's message, fund and program information, grants list, grantee information, financial statements, grant guidelines, and lists of board members and staff.

Edna McConnell Clark Foundation - 2005 Annual Report

July 24, 2006

Contains president's message, fund and program information, grants list, grantee information, financial statements, grant guidelines, and lists of board members and staff.