By Todd Cohen
[Note: This was written for Triangle Community Foundation.]
RALEIGH, N.C. — Marbles Kids Museum created a program to train its staff to help develop early literacy skills in visitors to the museum.
Triangle Family Services developed metrics on the use of its space that helped dramatically reduce the “no-show” rate among its clients.
Both Raleigh nonprofits were among 22 in the Triangle that received grants from Triangle Community Foundation to assess their operations, and among 21 that received additional grants to use those assessments to strengthen their organizational “capacity.”
The Foundation’s total investment in the effort, which included learning “cohorts” designed to provide training for participating nonprofits and help them share best practices with one another, was $330,000.
“Running a nonprofit is a business, and one with an extremely important outcome,” Pat Nathan, a member of the Foundation’s board, told 85 guests attending TCF Connect, an event in October at the North Carolina Museum of Art attended by 85 Foundation donors and nonprofits.
A similar event for donors and nonprofits was held in Durham and attracted 40 people.
Building the capacity of nonprofits in the region that work in the fields of youth literacy and community development is the focus of the first phase of a “People and Places” initiative Triangle Community Foundation launched in 2014 that also will invest in nonprofits working in the fields of land conservation and the arts.
The Foundation decided to make capacity-building in those four fields of interest its focus as the result of a two-year effort to assess its grantmaking with advice from donors, nonprofits and civic leaders from throughout the Triangle.
Lori O’Keefe, the Foundation’s president, told donors and nonprofits attending TCF Connect that its dollars for making discretionary grants are limited and its donors want to see the “direct tangible impact” of grants from their funds.
“As much as we want to give from our hearts, we have to invest in organizations’ ability to grow and expand and be successful,” O’Keefe said. “We have to be accountable for what the return on investment is.”
In the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2014, discretionary funds available for grants to community programs totaled $1 million, or the investment income on 15 percent of the Foundation’s $189 million total assets.
“It’s important for us as donors to recognize that for organizations to feed more kids or buy more books,” O’Keefe said, “they have to be able to invest in their infrastructure, much like a business.”
Literacy, community development
Nathan, founder and president of Dress for Success Triangle NC and a former sustainability executive at Dell, moderated a panel that focused on the issue of organizational capacity and included Sally Edwards, president of Marbles; Alice Lutz, CEO of Triangle Family Services; and O’Keefe.
Since Marbles was formed seven years ago through the merger of Exploris and Playspace, hundreds of thousands of children have visited the museum, Edwards said.
“We knew we had such an opportunity to make such an impact in early literacy but didn’t have the capacity to make it,” she said.
So with a grant from Triangle Community Foundation, Marbles assessed its capacity in the area of youth literacy, looking at factors such as its staff and exhibits to determine how it might best improve its organization to better focus on early literacy.
A second grant from the Foundation allowed Marbles to develop and launch a program in collaboration with Motheread, a Raleigh-based national training and curriculum development organization, to train its staff to help develop the early literacy skills of visitors to the museum.
Triangle Family Services, which works to help families experiencing family violence, financial crisis and mental health issues, was looking for ways to streamline its operations.
With five business units spread across multiple locations and operating seven days a week, the agency was using a complicated process for assigning its rooms for clients to meet with its staff.
Triangle Family Services used an initial grant from Triangle Community Foundation to identify the need to improve that process, and used a second grant to develop and adopt a “systemizing of metrics and measures across all program areas to make it simple and accessible” to assign space for clients, Lutz said.
The result: A reduction — to 5 percent from 18 percent — in the no-show rate among mental-health clients.
Gearing for change
The “People and Places” initiative is part of a larger effort at Triangle Community Foundation to find ways to be a more effective partner to donors, funder of nonprofits and resource on local community issues, Lacy Presnell, chair of the Foundation’s board, told guests at the TCF Connect event.
“When we work together,” he said, “we are stronger and can increase the positive impact we have on our communities.”
In the fiscal year ended June 30, 2014, he said, the foundation received over 220 gifts totaling over $25.2 million, and made over 3,700 grants totaling over $15.4 million invested back into the community.
In assessing its grants, he said, the Foundation found the biggest fields of interest that received funding were education, arts and culture, followed by housing and human services, religious activities, and health care, he said.
Today, with $189.4 million in assets and celebrating its 30th anniversary and the 100th anniversary of community foundations in the U.S., Triangle Community Foundation is “trying to stay in step with rapid growth in the region,” said Presnell, who serves as general counsel for the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
Retooling for impact
O’Keefe said the focus of the Foundation’s grantmaking is local, with three-fourths of all its grantmaking remaining in the Triangle, and donor advised funds accounting for nearly two-thirds of the grant dollars that stay in the region.
The Foundation has been retooling, looking for “how to best deploy the flexible funds that have been given to us by past and current donors, and how to put them back into the community for the best use,” she said.
In talking to donors, the Foundation learned that while they were “excited about the programs, they were not always sure how it connected back to their funds and grantmaking.”
And finding that donors already were funding programs in the areas of youth literacy, community development, the arts and the environment, she said, the Foundation decided to focus on capacity-building in those four areas.
Partnering for success
Jessica Aylor, director of community investment at Triangle Community Foundation, told guests at the TCF Connect event that partnerships with nonprofits is one of central roles the Foundation is playing.
“We are taking more of a partnership approach with our programs, trying to strengthen the capacity of nonprofits, giving them grants and putting them in learning cohorts” where they can learn from one another, she said. “Stronger nonprofits end up with greater impact in the community.”
Funding for the Foundation’s “People and Places” community programs that focus on youth literacy, community development, land conservation and the arts is available from Fund for the Triangle, created through gifts to the Foundation by donors “who wanted us to be more strategic in our funding,” she said.
In addition to donating money, said panelists at TCF Connect, donors to Triangle Community Foundation and to nonprofits have many other opportunities to get involved with nonprofits they care about.
Donors can contribute time as volunteers, either working directly with a nonprofit’s clients or in the back office, or can serve on boards, committees and task forces, they said.
At Marbles, for example, a donor could volunteer to help deliver programs or with committees such as one working on a master-planning process to expand the museum’s campus, Edwards said.
And at Triangle Family Services, donors can serve on boards, task forces or a facilities committee that currently is looking at how to get a sump pump for the organization, or can attend a coffee chat with the CEO on the first Friday of each month from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.
Donors, nonprofits and local residents also can attend the Foundation’s What Matters event on April 1, 2015, that will feature stories about giving and data on the Triangle, and will focus on “how the region is changing and how to be thinking for years ahead,” Aylor said.
This past April, the What Matters event attracted 500 people and focused on community innovation.
“Community foundations,” she said, “are places for people to learn together and support causes they care about.”
“The community foundation field is about connecting resources to opportunities and needs,” she said. “The more we learn together, the more work we can do.”