Communication and Relationships

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Two Foundation priorities for the year are improved communication and finding partners for our Palm Beach Johnson Scholars program. Those strategies are coming together in recent months and have been consuming much of our time and energy.

I wrote last month of our burgeoning relationship with the Helios Foundation. Our respective missions are similar and we continue to explore joint opportunities. As quid pro quo for our work together in Palm Beach County we have received and accepted an invitation to a meeting in Phoenix with community leaders to discuss education and the economic future of Arizona. I expect that a key premise of this meeting will be that education is the key to economic success and, for disadvantaged students, postsecondary education usually starts at the community college level.

Our effort to find partners for our Palm Beach Scholars program has led us into a broader discussion about forming a comprehensive college access network in Palm Beach County. This, and our association with the Florida Philanthropic Network, has led us to the Florida College Access Network and the Lumina Foundation.

The mission of the Florida College Access Network (FCAN) is “to create and strengthen a statewide network that catalyzes and supports communities to improve college & career preparation, access, and completion for all students.” FCAN is a resource for us. It can provide data, the benefit of its experience, encouragement and also lend its reputation to our efforts.

The Lumina Foundation is based in Indianapolis, employs roughly 55 staff members and has an endowment in excess of $1 billion. Its goal is to increase the proportion of Americans with high-quality degrees, certificates and other credentials to 60 percent by 2025 (from the present 40%). It is the nation’s largest private foundation focused solely on increasing Americans’ success in higher education.

Lumina has invested in 75 local college access networks in diverse parts of the US, including some sites in Florida. In the course of doing so it has acquired experience and knowledge that would be invaluable to anyone planning a local college access network in Palm Beach County. We have met the key people at Lumina and have a follow up telephone meeting scheduled for next month.

Modern philanthropic thinking has increasingly focused on collective impact as a means to engender systemic change. This seems true and there are many recent examples of how funders, non-profits and governments have worked together to make change. A great example of this is Pathways to Education, which has engaged schools, parents, all levels of governments and other non-profits

We must also be mindful of the fact that the process of engaging with government, non-profits and other funders can be a sinkhole for our precious time, energy and money. So we must follow our usual process of investigation and diligence in choosing our partners and the projects that we work on.

Our chances of success on the Palm Beach/Johnson Scholars project – or any project - will depend greatly on the other organizations that we are working with and our relationships with them.