This article discusses how The California Endowment has used a midcourse strategic review to refine Building Healthy Communities, aiming to provide insight for other place-based initiatives and to add to the body of knowledge about how to support transformative community change.
With Building Healthy Communities, the endowment is taking a new approach to community change using a dual strategy to build community capacity in 14 places and scale the impact of its local efforts through statewide policy advocacy and communications. In 2013, it commissioned a strategic review to reflect on what it has learned from the first three years of this innovation in place-based work.
Through interviews, focus groups, surveys, and document review, examples have emerged of how this unique approach is contributing to community change. The review also surfaced tensions created by the design and implementation of the strategy that could impede progress.
Getting in the business of community change requires foundations to assess their tolerance for ambiguity and risk and their ability to engage in continuous learning – all of which are in high demand. In order to do community change work well, funders need to:
- Recognize the complexity in which meaningful, transformative community change happens.
- Step outside the comfort zone of “neutrality.”
- Support communities in pursuing their own strategies for community change, and focus on community organizing.
- Anticipate supporting foundation staff embedded in communities to effectively address power dynamics and balancing community development efforts with grantmaking responsibilities.
- Seek to connect policy-advocacy efforts at multiple levels (e.g., local and statewide) and create the structures that allow organizations to align their vision and strategies.
- Put resources toward strengthening a culture of organizational and strategic learning.