Discovering better ways to solve social problems

Marin Community Foundation: Strategic Planning and Implementation

Case Overview

The Marin Community Foundation (MCF) engaged FSG to facilitate a strategic planning and implementation process to align all staff and Board members around common grantmaking and development goals.

The Challenge

Marin is one of the wealthiest per-capita counties in the country. However, the county has a large educational achievement gap and pockets of deep poverty and need. While MCF had a significant discretionary grantmaking budget to address county issues, the foundation had not yet developed a proactive approach to grantmaking, had underperformed other Bay Area community foundations in growing its donor base, and was struggling with organizational performance. FSG was hired to help the foundation create a clear vision for social impact, develop a high-impact grantmaking and donor development strategy, institute an evaluation and learning approach, optimize organizational structure, and support program staff in developing and implementing an action plan to launch the strategy.

Approach & Solutions

FSG began by analyzing the most promising opportunities for MCF to maximize social impact in Marin County. FSG coordinated task forces of Board and staff members to deeply examine the data on the needs and the opportunities in 7 areas: Education, Human Needs, Community Development, Environment, Religion, Arts, and Donor Engagement. To guide decision making in each of these areas, FSG analyzed secondary research, incorporated staff and Board input, and interviewed community stakeholders, including grantees, government officials, community members, executive leaders of nonprofits, current and potential donors, and other funders in the Bay Area.

The resulting plan yielded four programmatic strategic initiatives and 2 philanthropic services strategic initiatives (as well as 12 other community grantmaking programs in areas such as the arts, human services, health, etc.):

  • Programmatic Strategic Initiatives: Closing the educational achievement gap, increasing the availability of affordable housing, ending the cycle of poverty, and reducing the environmental effects of climate change
  • Philanthropic Services Strategic Initiatives: Collaborating with donors to maximize resources to address community needs and increasing community giving through the foundation

We then worked with the foundation to define specific and measurable goals, progress measures, and outcomes for each initiative. Once the strategy and evaluation plan was in place, FSG worked with each of the strategic initiative lead program officers, the Board, and the senior team to develop an organizational change plan. This involved creating and beginning to implement against a specific action plan with goals, responsibilities, timelines, and budgets. By the end of the engagement, the foundation had:

  • Adopted ambitious strategies and clear, measurable goals
  • Developed proactive approaches including grantmaking, convening, research, and other tools to take on community leadership and drive social impact
  • Aligned organizational structure and culture to support the strategy
  • Developed capacity to use evaluation to track and refine its strategy
  • Built the support of the community for MCF’s mission, priorities, and activities
  • Enhanced long-term organizational capacity to serve donors and the community
Through this process, the Marin Community Foundation transformed itself from a powerful funder to a true catalytic leader, leveraging its donor funds and its strategic grantmaking to create lasting change in its community.

About Marin Community Foundation

Established in 1986, the Marin Community Foundation is one of the largest community foundations in the United States. Founded with one aspiration, “to make a difference in the lives of others through thoughtful, effective philanthropy,” the Foundation manages approximately $1 billion in assets and distributes about $50 million annually in grants.

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