Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Chronicle of Philanthropy Artticle on CFSA System Change Work

January 9, 2011
A Grant Maker Requires Grantees to Collaborate

“No one agency can meet any one person’s needs,” says Sarah Jones, head of a social-service charity.
Nicole Wallace
The Community Foundation for Southern Arizona has made a big change in its grant making in response to the recession. The fund now awards grants only to coalitions of groups that work together to solve important community problems, not individual organizations.

The foundation last year brought 200 local nonprofit groups together to discuss what significant community change would look like and how they could work together to achieve it. Out of that process, the fund received 29 collaborative grant proposals. In September four partnerships received three-year grants of $225,000 each. They focus on women’s and girls’ issues, neighborhood revitalization in South Tucson, services for the elderly, and the dearth of healthy food in Ajo, Ariz.

The bad economy means that grant makers need to do more than just try to make up some of the money that government has had to cut, says Evan Mendelson, a vice president at the Tucson community fund.

“We actually need to change some of the paradigms of service provision,” she says. “And sometimes a crisis is the best time to do that.”

Closing Gaps

One of the problems organizations that provide services to the elderly identified was a lack of nursing homes and assisted-living facilities to accommodate baby boomers as more and more of them reach old age, says Ms. Mendelson.

Alone, no single group could take on the challenge, she says, but now that the groups are talking to each other and working together, they are devising a plan to create neighborhood-based services to help older people stay in their homes longer.

Evan Mendelson says “sometimes a crisis is the best time” to re-evaluate how services are provided.

Two more immediate benefits are that the collaborating groups can make sure they aren’t duplicating programs and can work to close gaps in the services they offer, says Ms. Mendelson.

“You can’t even see the gaps when you’re working in your own silos,” she says.

Better Quality Services

Emerge Center Against Domestic Violence, the Sahuaro Girl Scout Council, and the YWCA Tucson started working together as the Partnership for Women and Girls two years ago, even before the community foundation turned its attention to partnerships.

Traditionally when nonprofit groups think about collaboration, they think about organizations that share very similar missions working together, but that can be limiting, says Sarah Jones, Emerge’s chief executive. The Partnership for Women and Girls takes organizations that are related but not exactly the same to create a continuum of services.

The collaboration allows each group to focus on its area of expertise.
Emerge could follow the lead of a lot of domestic-violence shelters and hire an employment specialist to support its clients who need help to enter the job market.
But the organization could never provide the level of services that the YWCA does in its employment training, since that is a big focus of its operations, says Ms. Jones.

“No one agency can meet any one person’s needs¬—and probably shouldn’t,” she says. “When you try to start being everything to everybody, oftentimes you water down the quality of what you’re providing.”

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