By Patrick Troska, Executive Director
Strategic planning is often not a linear process. You believe you’re headed down one path, and then new information or a line of inquiry unexpectedly pushes you in a new direction. In 2015, here at the Foundation we knew it was time to update our funding priorities as our 5-year grantmaking plan concluded. The work was by no means completed on every front, but current information, lessons learned and emerging opportunities provided the prospect for some small and some larger tweaks to our grantmaking foci. We started the year doing research, meeting with content experts and key leaders in the field, and convened several facilitated conversations. The information collected was enlightening and helpful to our thinking.
However, the deeper we got into discovery, the more questions it raised. Sure, the current path we were on was producing some promising results, but we wondered what it all added up to. Could we succinctly describe our overall impact? And was that impact enough given the level of resources invested? Could our resources be put to better use?
The resulting conversations led us in a different direction than we had initially intended. Rather than update our funding priorities, we were now looking at how we could sharpen or tighten our focus in such a way that we could have a more defined and measureable impact on those living on the margins. This meant narrowing rather than refining, becoming bolder rather than broader. It also meant we needed to employ new methods that could challenge our thinking on deeply entrenched community challenges.
So we took a step back. We are currently finalizing plans to use Human Centered Design methods in our planning efforts this year. Through this approach, we are affirming that those most directly impacted by the challenges we intend to address should be intimately involved in developing their solutions. We will share more about this process over the next several months as we learn and execute this approach.
Last week, we sent a letter to all of our current grantees to let them know that the inevitable changes to our funding priorities and grantmaking relationships will be communicated later in 2016. The specifics are not yet known but will become clearer as our planning process unfolds. The complete content of that letter follows below.
We are excited to see where this new direction might take the Foundation and the possibilities that lie ahead. We believe strongly that greater inclusion of community voices will help the Foundation define new, effective, long-term grantmaking strategies. We invite you to stay in touch with us throughout our planning process.
In 2015, the Foundation completed a 5-year grantmaking plan focused on “helping people in poverty attain economic stability.” It was a productive five years that saw the Foundation launch and/or support a number of notable efforts.
- The Phillips Sectoral Employment Initiative (PSEI) helped build the capacity of a number of local nonprofit employment training providers, positioning them to be state and national leaders in implementing emerging Career Pathways strategies.
- The Blue Line Coalition sparked greater community-based learning and advocacy in North Minneapolis around proposed transit investments.
- The MATSH system now provides more efficient access to supportive housing around the state through one database of opportunities accessible to housing locators and case managers.
- Provided support to launch MSPWin (Workforce Innovation Network), a funders collaborative focused on improving the workforce system so that all members of the community have access to quality employment opportunities that strengthen our region.
- Supported increased resources for affordable housing through Homes for All.
- Piloted a strategy to support college success for African American males through the Eddie Phillips Scholarship for African American Men.
- Participated in numerous funder collaborations including the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative, Generation Next, Northside Funders Group, Minnesota Comeback, and the Heading Home Minnesota Funders Collaborative.
As we concluded this 5-year plan, we set in motion a process to update and further refine our funding strategies for years 2016-20. We engaged many of you in one-on-one conversations and/or focus groups to guide and inform our learning. This was a very informative and helpful time that coalesced our learning and pointed us forward. However, planning processes are rarely linear and the more we learned, the more it became clear that if we wanted greater impact with our limited resources, we would need to refine our funding priorities even further.
We are now beginning to explore how larger investments in a smaller set of issues could produce stronger and more measureable impact. We believe that the best way to determine these targeted strategies is to create them in dialogue with the individuals and communities we seek to support. The days of generic solutions or “outsiders know best” have passed. The stakeholders closest to the issues must be engaged and valued in order to create new and formidable solutions to deeply entrenched community issues.
For the better part of 2016, the Foundation will engage in this process of deeper discovery. We are retaining a local consulting firm to support and guide our efforts. Our intention is to arrive at a set of funding strategy ideas that we can test and launch later this year. Along the way, we will communicate what we are learning and how we are progressing through the discovery and strategy development process. We hope to make this as transparent a process as possible.
So how does this affect your organization? Here’s what we know so far:
- Narrower funding priorities will mean that some of the Foundation’s current funding priorities will end. However, since we do not yet have these new priorities defined, it is unclear exactly which of the Foundation’s current efforts will no longer align with our new focus. As a result, we have decided to suspend grantmaking activities until our future funding strategies are further defined. This means that if you are accustomed to applying for and receiving a grant in the spring, that process will not occur this year.
- For those organizations that no longer align with our new funding focus but have consistently received funding, we will consider making an exit grant. You will be informed about the exit grant process once it has been determined. Exit grants, however, are not guaranteed.
- We will honor all grant agreements where a payment is due in 2016 on a multi-year pledge.
- Grant reports will continue to be due a year after a grant was awarded. An email will be sent to you when your report is coming due.
- When grantmaking commences later this year, it will be focused on efforts pointed in our new funding direction. This may include some of the currently funded organizations, as well as efforts not yet identified.
We invite you to stay informed about our process by reading future blog posts on our website. We will also provide periodic updates through our e-newsletter. Go to our website and sign up to receive this e-newsletter if you are not already a subscriber.
We realize change is difficult and that these kinds of transitions can cause anxiety. If you have any questions about your current funding or our planning process, please do not hesitate to contact your program officer. Responding to your inquiries will be a top priority.
Thank you for all the good work you do to lift individuals, families and communities out of poverty. This is difficult but gratifying work. It is our belief that the next iteration of the Foundation’s efforts will have an even more profound effect on these issues as we work more closely with the community to craft and implement solutions to our more pressing challenges.