Providing Assistance beyond the Grant: William Casper Graustein Memorial Fund

In the third post of our series of profiles of funders that are exemplary in their provision of non-monetary support to grantees, as assessed by the Grantee Perception Report, we take a look at the William Casper Graustein Memorial Fund. Based in Hamden, CT, The Memorial Fund provides grants in accordance with its mission to improve the effectiveness of education in fostering both personal development and leadership. Its chief initiative, Discovery, aims to ensure that Connecticut children of all races and economic backgrounds are ready for school by age five and successful learners by age nine. Input from Community Program Officer Carmen Siberon, Knowledge Development Officer Angela Frusciante, Ph.D., and Public Policy Officer Nancy Leonard helped us learn more about the Memorial Fund’s approaches to non-monetary support for its grantees.

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The rationale for assistance beyond the check

The Memorial Fund sees non-monetary assistance as a way to extend the impact of their financial support. “The focus of our community grants is to support the infrastructure required for local decision-making to address the needs of young children,” Community Program Officer Carmen Siberon explains. “Our community capacity building program is a direct mirror of that focus. Our community grants are modest in size, and, as our executive director likes to say, ‘the grant is what brings community stakeholders to the table initially, but it’s the capacity building offered that keeps them at the table.’” “The statewide advocacy organizations work collaboratively,” said Public Policy Officer Nancy Leonard, “and capacity-building has focused largely on their collective impact. This kind of support has enabled them to become a much more effective coalition, each drawing on its unique strengths.”

Types of assistance

The Memorial Fund offers an extensive set of nonmonetary assistance to its grantees that is mainly channeled through external providers. Staff provides assistance directly to grantees, most often at the start-up of projects or at critical junctions in the work. In most cases, the Memorial Fund works extensively with consultants, outside experts, and other partners to extend their ability to provide assistance beyond the grant.

Siberon describes the Memorial Fund’s approach to assistance beyond the grant as “holistic and centered on what the community needs to make things happen on the ground.” The Memorial Fund hires community liaisons, who are external consultants with the role of “holding up a mirror, helping the communities apply what the community is learning, and helping the Memorial Fund understand how its capacity-building assistance is being taken up by communities.” These liaisons work regularly with the collaborative groups of community grantees to offer advice, give feedback, provide some facilitation support, and encourage use of other capacity-building supports. They also serve as a direct connection between the Memorial Fund and the funded communities. As Siberon explains, this results in “constant communication about what’s working and what’s not and this information goes directly back into co-design and ongoing adjustments of programs.”

Another form of the Memorial Fund’s assistance is providing opportunities for peer sharing among communities, statewide advocates and other partners through bimonthly convenings, their annual Stone Soup conference, occasional regional and cohort meetings, and numerous capacity-building events.

The Memorial Fund provides grantees with training and tools such as access to experts, online resources, workshops and training sessions, multi-day institutes, and on-site technical assistance. Some of these supports are provided to communities by statewide grantees and most by other trusted third-party providers.

Through all of the assistance it provides, the Memorial Fund works to ensure that grantees share the learning they achieve. For this reason, the Memorial Fund “meets with the statewide grantees twice a year for a structured reflection on emerging lessons, changes in the environment, and opportunities for strengthening their efforts,” says Leonard. “Through these opportunities, the core advocacy partners have emerged as a collaborative team and learning network.

The Discovery communities are often encouraged to form community teams to attend trainings and institutes. As Siberon explains, “if only one person comes to a training, it’s difficult for them to go back and put their learning into action. Asking communities to come in teams helps ensure that the capacity building is shared and benefits more people.”

Evaluating the impact of non-monetary assistance

The Memorial Fund assesses grantees’ experience with the non-monetary support it provides through surveys distributed immediately after the assistance is provided and uses the feedback provided to inform future assistance. As Siberon explains, “We have an evaluation sheet that communities fill out that’s specific to each offering. In addition, we have plus/delta conversations with communities after every engagement to identify the positive aspects of the offering and also what needs to change. We use that information to determine whether to keep doing something, how to step it up, or how to tweak the offering.”

The Memorial Fund has also commissioned a third-party evaluation of the funded communities’ use of the Memorial Fund’s capacity-building assistance. The goal of this evaluation, available on the Memorial Fund’s website, was to assess how the Memorial Fund’s capacity-building approach in the Discovery initiative has influenced community and state practice and policy related to early care and education.

The biggest challenges

The Memorial Fund is “engaged in the work” it funds. Sharing the benefits and challenges associated with this kind of grantmaking and capacity building with the philanthropic field has been challenging. Sharing is important especially as more funders consider moving toward similar engaged grantmaking. As Knowledge Development Officer Angela Frusciante, Ph.D., explains, “We find ourselves in a position where we’re trying to operate as a grantmaking organization and we’re doing it in a very engaged way. We’re trying to figure out how we share with the field what those challenges are.”

Another challenge is the demand on staff that providing capacity building poses. As Siberon explains, “This level of capacity building is very hands-on for foundation staff. Program officers are often driven by priorities of the foundation work, such as trying to stay on top of what’s going on in the field, meeting with existing and potential grantees/partners, etc. [In the Memorial Fund’s model of engaged grantmaking and capacity building], a program officer’s role shifts in a way that makes it a lot more about executing a project or being responsive to things that come up, and being flexible to mid-project adjustments.”

This post is the third 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 William Casper Graustein Memorial Fund on Twitter at @WCGMemorialFund.

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