Watch and learn about the Communities Foundation of Texas' work to improve the economic stability of low-income families.
After the 2009 recession, a growing number of Dallas families found themselves just two paychecks away from falling into poverty. The problem was particularly evident in South Dallas, which had a higher concentration of working poor families. Although many area service agencies expressed interest in helping these families, systemic issues hampered progress, including a lack of understanding of both the factors that were contributing to the problem and ways that data could be used to inform decision making.
CFT realized that it was critical to address these systems-level issues before making significant program investments. In 2010, CFT engaged FSG to develop a strategy for investment in Dallas’ working poor. FSG facilitated a 3-phase process that included the following steps.
- Assessing the landscape of stakeholders in the space and the key needs of each population.
- Developing a detailed strategy with clear goals, objectives, and activities.
- Articulating an action plan with resource and systems needs as well as a timeline for implementation.
FSG identified causative issues similar to those that affected the working poor in other communities (limited education, lack of access to bank accounts), but it also identified 2 significant needs at the systems level.
- A lack of current data on the needs and challenges of today’s working poor.
- A lack of knowledge among many area agencies regarding the best ways to use data to drive decisions and strategy.
Concurrently, CFT suspended programmatic grantmaking for a year to devote staff members’ time to learning more about the ecosystem of the working poor in Dallas.
CFT began by funding a grant to gather and publish data about the working poor in the Dallas community. CFED Assets & Opportunity Profile for Dallas, the first local report to include information about the working poor in more than a decade, revealed the sizable scope and scale of financial insecurity among residents: 39% of Dallas households could not survive for 3 months above the poverty line if they lost their job.
While the report sparked a city-wide conversation about the challenges facing the working poor, focus groups with nonprofit agencies revealed a more serious issue: a lack of capacity or technical expertise to source, interpret, and use data when creating program and organizational strategies.
This discovery led to CFT’s second systems-level investment: the creation of the Data Driven Decision-Making Institute, known locally as the D3 Institute—a year-long cohort training program focused on using data to inform strategy development. D3’s goal was to strengthen the capacity of each agency to inform its strategies based on good data and to cultivate new connections and partnerships among the agencies that support working poor families in the community. FSG provided developmental evaluation services to help CFT in ongoing learning and curriculum development to best serve participants.
Armed with a new understanding of the issues facing the community’s working poor families, CFT has launched the Working Families Success Model based on the work of the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The model includes a bundled set of 3 core services that are designed and integrated to help families overcome barriers and advance economically.
About Communities Foundation of Texas
Communities Foundation of Texas works with families, companies, and nonprofits to strengthen the community through a variety of charitable funds and strategic grantmaking initiatives. The foundation professionally manages more than 900 charitable funds and has awarded more than $1.4 billion in grants since its founding in 1953. Increasing financial stability of working families is one of the two key focus areas of CFT’s community impact funds.