Providing Assistance Beyond the Grant: The Wallace Foundation

In this new series, we’ll be sharing case studies of foundations that exemplify the ways in which funders can provide their grantees with support that goes beyond just the check. In 2008, CEP published a research report, More than Money: Making a Difference with Assistance Beyond the Grant, which showed that certain patterns of more intensive non-monetary assistance can have a substantial positive impact on grantees’ experiences with their philanthropic funders. At the request of Wilburforce Foundation, we looked through our Grantee Perception Report dataset to identify and profile funders that at the time of their grantee survey provided some of the largest proportions of their grantees with what the research shows to be the most intensive and helpful patterns of non-monetary assistance.

For the first case study of this series, we’re looking at The Wallace Foundation. Located in New York City, the Foundation works toward a mission to improve learning and enrichment opportunities for children in the United States. With help from Wallace’s Director of Research and Evaluation Ed Pauly and Director of Education Leadership Jody Spiro, we discuss what the Foundation has done to garner such exceptionally positive feedback from its grantees when it comes to non-monetary assistance

The rationale for assistance beyond the grant

Wallace provides assistance beyond the grant in order to help grantees effectively carry out their often-challenging grant-funded work. Wallace grantees’ work is challenging because it often asks grantees to test out new practices. As Director of Research and Evaluation Ed Pauly explains, “We think of [non-monetary assistance] as cutting across a whole initiative, and that’s because the initiatives that Wallace supports are on major unsolved social problems where innovation is needed, and nobody – ourselves included – has all the answers. We are trying to bring together resources and people that can really accelerate and support the grantees. [We are trying to do] the heavy lifting of providing support that makes innovation work well on the front lines.”

The recipients

The Wallace Foundation typically offers its grantees opportunities to participate in meetings with other grantees to exchange ideas and experiences, and to receive technical assistance as needed. Wallace funds these activities so they do not reduce the funding received by grantees. As Director of Education Leadership Jody Spiro explains, “We make the offer of technical assistance – and the presumption of its acceptance – clear before grantees receive the grant. It’s built in as a requirement of the grant.” Because the foundation’s goal is to provide non-monetary assistance for the “unsolved problems” facing its grantees, the Foundation focuses on providing non-monetary assistance to grantees in groups working toward similar goals. “We don’t think about non-monetary assistance on a grantee-to-grantee basis,” says Pauly.

Types of assistance

The Wallace Foundation staff and third-party providers work with grantees in three ways to provide assistance beyond the grant – through technical assistance provided to grantees within a particular initiative, through professional learning communities, and through Wallace staff.

Initiative-wide technical assistance

Wallace provides technical assistance across all program grantees in a particular initiative based on a gap analysis to see what needs have not been met among grantees. The Foundation then “hires a technical assistance provider on grantees’ behalf to provide assistance to all grantees.”

One example of this type of assistance is in the Foundation’s Principal Pipeline work, where all grantees seek high quality training provider partners for leader preparation programs. To help them identify high-quality programs, Spiro says “the foundation provides a grant to the Education Development Center to provide a tool and consulting to all the Wallace grantee school districts focused on assessing the quality of programs according to research-based criteria.”

In addition to the built-in technical assistance that is provided to all grantees from the beginning of their relationship with the foundation, Wallace staff responds to needs that emerge while grants are in progress. As Spiro explains, “Staff are continually in touch with grantees and know what their needs are, so we bring them together as a group where their needs are addressed at large.” Pauly describes this as a “faster, more efficient, and more effective way of providing assistance to a large number of grantees.” He also mentions that “this method of providing assistance is adaptable, but isn’t designed to be ‘one size fits all.’”

Professional learning communities

Wallace developed professional learning communities when the foundation recognized that its grantees were struggling with similar issues and were more likely to accelerate their work if they shared ideas and approached problem-solving together. For grantees to be as effective as possible, Spiro says grantees “need to be sharing solutions and getting ideas of things they are struggling with or things they’re doing well in real time, and on an ongoing basis.” As Spiro explains, Wallace’s learning communities “bring together people from school districts, communications experts, national thought leaders, key partners in technical assistance, and other experts with an agenda jointly constructed between Wallace and the districts, based on what they’re struggling with.” These working groups happen, as Spiro notes, “a couple of times a year in person, and nearly every month via webinar” with the goal of developing “very concrete programs and products.”

Assistance provided through Wallace staff

Wallace program officers are experts in the foundation’s research and are knowledgeable about field-wide best practices. Providing non-monetary assistance to grantees through consultation is a critical part of Wallace program officers’ roles. As Spiro explains, “We consider Wallace’s staff as major deliverers of technical assistance. Staff who manage grants consider themselves to be ‘critical friends’ for grantees to push their thinking. We have conversations with grantees such as, ‘Have you thought of this? Here’s some research, here are other people that have been dealing with the similar issue.’”

Evaluating the impact of non-monetary assistance

Wallace grantees are required to submit a self-reported progress report, whereas Spiro explains, they are asked “to evaluate their progress against their plan and assess the value of all different kind of non-monetary assistance that they’ve received. We ask if they’ve used any assistance, and to indicate on a scale of 1-5 how valuable it was. We also ask them for examples of how they’ve used non-monetary assistance.” Wallace has an internal team composed of staff from communications, research and evaluation, and education leadership that discusses the results of these reports.

The biggest challenges

Providing intensive non-monetary assistance to grantees requires a substantial time investment from staff. As Pauly explains, “It’s challenging, but we think it delivers a great deal of value given our focus on supporting and testing innovative practices, and grantees want to keep doing it.”

This post is the first in a series sharing case studies exemplifying ways in which funders can provide their grantees with effective non-monetary assistance. CEP thanks Wilburforce Foundation for funding the creation of these profiles.

You can follow The Wallace Foundation on Twitter at @WallaceFdn

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