Partnering to Scale Impact

Elliot Berger, Arabella Advisors
Posted: July 26, 2013

This post originally appeared on The Greater Good, Arabella Advisors' blog. It is reposted with permission.

Given the complexity of most formidable social issues, engaging players with varied experiences and expertise can help funders exceed their own resources to scale impact. A few weeks ago I spoke about accelerating change by expanding networks at the Social Impact Exchange Annual Conference. My panel explored the key drivers for partnering with local foundations to help scale the efforts of evidence-based nonprofits in their communities. While developing such partnerships requires a long-term commitment of time and funding, doing so can go a long way in helping a foundation capitalize on its assets beyond the purchasing power of its grants.

The example I shared at the conference was the 6800 Bellaire Project (formerly the Gulfton Project), an initiative that demonstrates what role networks and peer learning groups play in achieving broad collective change. Its premise is that neighborhood revitalization can chart a path out of poverty. Located in the densest community of Houston, the project seeks to develop a cradle-through-college, education-centric community that includes youth and adult development programs, jobs and job training, health and wellness, mixed-income housing, and commercial investment.

The 6800 Bellaire Project aims to create an ecosystem by scaling solutions of what has worked in similar communities, especially the work of Purpose Built Communities, which successfully pursued a similar path in 1995 in the Eastlake community of Atlanta, Georgia. Eastlake transformed 650 housing units—40 percent of which had been unlivable—into 550 beautiful, identical apartments, half of which are subsidized. At the community’s original school, only five percent of fifth graders met state math standards. Today, at the local charter school, 95 percent of third through eighth graders meet these standards.

The 6800 Bellaire Project is scaling impact by collaborating with several partners, including the local YMCA, which has a well-established distribution reach, and KIPP Public Charter Schools, which have effectively focused on the changes necessary to move the needle against problems facing inner city schools.

Other speakers at the conference also offered insights on the necessity of bold and sometimes risky approaches to scaling impact:

According to fellow speaker Jim Canales, CEO of the James Irvine Foundation, success may depend on funders shifting from an attribution to a contribution mindset. He pointed to the fact that funders often attribute the change that was achieved to their own efforts, instead of actively recognizing and touting their grantees and partners. By recognizing the past and potential contributions of others, a funder is more likely to enter partnerships, such as donor collaboratives, and thus gain from the expertise and resources of others, ultimately increasing chances to make a large impact.

Plenary presenter Rip Rapson, CEO of the Kresge Foundation, spoke of how philanthropists need to function as sellers, not buyers, of nonprofit services. By advocating for effective organizations and funders to join the table, philanthropists can better scale impact. Foundations can also take on the responsibility of educating others about how social and financial investments work most effectively. Consequently, they can set the standard and create a stable environment for others to make investments.

Finally, Audrey Choi, head of Morgan Stanley Global Sustainable Finance, mentioned that when working with diverse groups, people can use the same language but mean completely different things, a topic we’ve covered on this blog. She joked that partnerships involve diverse groups and could benefit from what Star Trek called “universal translators” to help everyone understand each other. It is important to avoid jargon and be mindful that smaller collaborations may lead to quicker results, as having fewer partners will reduce the likelihood of misunderstandings and the amount of time necessary to have everyone on the same page.

The power of effective partnerships, especially when it comes to scaling approaches that work, is a topic we discuss often in the Arabella offices. We invite you to continue the conversation in the comments below.

Elliot Berger is a managing director who leads Arabella’s New York City office. He works to build customized plans for clients that integrate and maximize all aspects of their charitable assets, including grants, investments, relationships, and time.