The Community Leadership Project (CLP) began in 2009 as an effort by our three foundations to increase the sustainability of small organizations serving low-income people and communities of color in three regions of California: the San Francisco Bay Area, the San Joaquin Valley, and the Central Coast.

As large foundations — Irvine funds across California, and the Packard and Hewlett foundations are global funders — we wanted to find ways to strengthen smaller, local organizations that our grantmaking programs may not ordinarily know or engage with.

CLP started as a three-year, $10 million effort, but as the first phase was ending we committed to a second three years to deepen the impact of CLP’s work. In the second phase, we invested $8 million to support 56 organizations between 2012 and 2015. A final round of grants totaling $2 million was made in 2016 to sunset the initiative. We have just completed an evaluation of the second phase of the program that we commissioned from Social Policy Research Associates. We hope that this report will be useful to other funders interested in supporting small organizations in their communities.

In the second phase of the Community Leadership Project, we provided funding to five intermediary organizations that re-granted those funds to organizations in the community. They were supported by five organizations that provided technical assistance to those grantees in the form of leadership training, strategic planning, financial training, and technology, among other areas. This combination — general support combined with capacity building — has proved to be extremely valuable to many of the organizations.

The evaluation shows that this second phase has been largely successful in strengthening these grassroots organizations. For some organizations, the impact of the assistance was dramatic. One grantee reported that they were about to close their doors at the beginning of the project, and they now run with a healthy surplus thanks to the training they received and the added confidence that it provided.

Another grantee noted that, as a result of CLP, they were able to establish themselves as a stand-alone 501c3 organization, which allows them to better serve the community.

Another organization that provides arts opportunities to rural youth and operates on a true shoestring budget — $70,000 a year — now has its own standalone facility due to the fundraising skills they learned during the project.

These are a few stories of organizations that are flourishing as a result of CLP — organizations that large foundations like ours would be unable to support under our traditional structures.

It has been a journey for all of us — for our foundations and for the community-based organizations, re-granters, technical assistance providers, and evaluators. The evaluation conducted by Social Policy Research Associates offers useful lessons about what went well and areas for improvement for those interested in launching a similar initiative. We hope that the report can serve as an excellent resource for funders, regranting intermediaries, and participating community organizations alike.

As you will see from this evaluation, there are terrific opportunities for large funders to support small community-based organizations. We hope that others will benefit from what we have learned over the course of this extremely rewarding initiative.

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