In 2010, FACT made the bold decision to commit over a third of its funds to strengthening organizations. Giving organizations the opportunity and tools to focus inward to strengthen their capacities formed the core of the program and was created in direct response to the needs of FACT’s grantees.
With a relatively small docket, FACT was able to get to know its grantees well, and to hear from them what kind of help they most needed. Many of them needed assistance with communications, technology, research, or fundraising. From its early years, FACT gave grants to technical assistance providers – and helped create new ones – that offered such services, and the foundation also supported training for grantees. In addition, FACT had a pool for “discretionary” grants: small amounts, up to $5,000, that could be requested and awarded on short notice, for a special need – such as replacing computers that were so slow that staff were bringing their own laptops to work, or sending a group on a retreat to learn communications skills.
In 2003, FACT realized that it needed a more comprehensive strategy for strengthening its grantees. In particular, they felt that grantees needed management assistance that was not readily available. Community organizing groups are unlike other non-profits or for-profit organizations in that their management structure is deeply rooted in their membership. Executive directors tend to have been organizers themselves, and few are versed in such areas as administration, finance, or board development.
The groups also have lean staffs, with a small number of people playing multiple roles.
Laura Livoti, who joined FACT as its senior program officer in 2002, was charged with researching the field and developed a four-pronged Strengthening Organizations Program that included an innovative management assistance component. “Our groups were doing well, growing stronger and winning some important victories,” Laura noted. “And yet, given the magnitude of the change they were seeking, they needed professional support to become even more effective.”
The new four-part Strengthening Organizations Program incorporated two already existing elements – the grants to nonprofit technical assistance providers and the discretionary grants – and added two new ones, the Management Assistance Program and Organizational Development grants.
The four parts were intended to work together, with grantees able to access all of them, and still continue to receive their general operating grants.
The Management Assistance Program (MAP) assembled a pool of 11 organizational development and management consultants with experience working with community organizing groups. The guiding principles: participation would be voluntary; there would be a confidentiality firewall between the grantee and the foundation; the program would be customized and flexible and given sufficient time to make a difference.
Once a grantee’s very simple application was approved for a MAP contract, a lead consultant, employed by FACT, would review the proposal in depth and recommend two consultants with the closest skills match. The grantee would choose the consultant it preferred. Each contract was allotted up to 380 consulting hours over the life of the project, which could run a maximum of 18 months. The lead consultant acted as the liaison among the grantee, the working consultant, and the foundation, maintaining total confidentiality.
From 2004 through 2010, 26 organizations, more than half of FACT’s grantees, undertook MAP contracts. Several of them had multiple contracts, for a total of 56 projects. The number of projects undertaken increased each year. In 2010, the total budget for MAP was $420,578, including consulting hours, the salary of the lead consultant, convenings of the team of consultants, and all expenses. The funds were drawn from FACT’s operating budget, rather than its grant making budget, which remained constant. The program is funded through 2012.
Emily Goldfarb, FACT’s lead consultant for capacity building, considers the MAP program a new model. “In 2004, what largely existed in the field of funder-supported capacity building was ad hoc, incremental, short-term interventions. The package that FACT put together was different, and worked in tandem with how FACT did its grant making – long-term general operating support PLUS capacity building rather than instead of,” she said. Its 18-month span and substantial resources for consulting and expenses made it “the Cadillac of capacity building projects.”
One key element was how the consultant pool worked. “This was not just a roster of consultants that we referred groups to,” Goldfarb said. “We became a very tightly connected team, and we learned and grew together.” In addition to the usual credential-vetting, the consultants were screened intensively for their understanding of social change, community-led organizations. Twice a year, they convened to work on case studies, solve problems, and build relationships. “Over time, they started teaming with each other in a holistic, systemic way,”
Goldfarb said, bringing each other in to look at different parts of an organization, but still seeing it as a whole. The MAP consultants provided a financial literacy model that could be taught to an entire organization, management coaching that supported many layers of leadership, and board development that trained a constituency-led board to be really effective, not just a token. “A consultant in financial management doesn’t just work with the finance manager,” Goldfarb said. “Our goal is to push knowledge and responsibility down and out as wide and deeply as we can, so that everyone has tools they can permanently draw on, and is accountable.”
Goldfarb explained the special nature of working as a consultant to community organizing groups. The groups are often staffed, led by, and accountable to community members, so understanding their personal and organizational language and culture is crucial, and there are issues of race and class. These organizations are always testing new models of doing and structuring their work. What is more, “the mission is always about changing some complicated, intractable issue in our society,” Goldfarb said. “It’s the hardest kind of work, always changing and taking place on so many levels. They work at, and are affected by, events taking place locally, but also on the state and national level. The pace is so fast! The groups work with so many partners, and are engaged in movement building. Consultants need to understand the complexity of it. It’s not something easily definable, like delivering an afterschool program or some other kind of direct service.”
In 2008, with the U.S. in the midst of a severe financial crisis and foundations cutting their grant making budgets, FACT undertook a special one-time program to help its grantees weather tough financial times. The Special Financial Assistance Program, created with a $28,000 budget, consisted of two 90-minute webinar training sessions with follow up consultation. Grantees were invited to participate in one of the two sessions, and participants could request eight hours of customized phone consultation on financial management, planning and fundraising over the following 12 months. Representatives from 27 grantee groups participated. This project became a model for several other funders, who developed similar web trainings and customized followup for their grantees.
In 2010, FACT launched a final capacity building endeavor designed in part to address its own impending exit from philanthropy. The two-year
Fundraising Assistance Project sought to help grantees increase, diversify and strengthen their revenue base. Through a competitive proposal process, FACT awarded $40,000 to each of ten grantees with well-developed fundraising plans. The grants supported the implementation of major gifts campaigns, the creation of donor data bases, and the development of social networking, website, and communications strategies with a fundraising goal. The foundation will award a second round of 25 grants of $35,000 each ($875,000) in 2011. Recipients of 2010 grants are eligible to receive a second round of funding.
FACT grantees that were not selected for the 2010 grants were invited to participate in a two-part fundraising webinar training on grassroots fundraising and major gifts, offered in the summer of 2010. Participants could also request eight hours of follow-up customized phone consultation. Over 100 people participated in the webinar, which featured fundraising consultants, development directors from FACT grantee groups offering examples of their own successes, an online chat feature for questions, and a comprehensive manual that participants could download.