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The Foundation Review | Volume 6 Issue 4

The California Endowment (TCE) conducted a midcourse review of its Building Healthy Communities (BHC) strategy, which involves building local capacity in 14 communities while working to advance statewide policy advocacy and communications, to achieve transformative community change. TCE is using the review’s findings to refine its strategy and activities to ensure it is on track for reaching its long term goals, and provides insights for other place-based initiatives seeking to support transformative community change.

Top Takeaways

  1. Several characteristics in combination distinguish the work of TCE from other place-based strategies, including focusing on policy and systems change to address complex community problems; building resident power through community organizing; sustaining support of local efforts across 14 geographically and demographically diverse communities; and simultaneously supporting advocacy efforts locally and statewide.
  2. To achieve its goals, TCE has adapted its organizational structures and processes, including reorganizing into two departments, established the role of chief learning officer to oversee research and evaluation, and commissioned formative evaluations to understand what was happening and how its strategy was evolving on the ground.
  3. Some of the challenges TCE has encountered include creating alignment between its local and statewide efforts, managing expectations about the pace of change in multisite philanthropy, upholding a common vision while respecting the different priorities and approaches of its communities, and taking a position on controversial issues that align with its mission. Despite these tensions, TCE’s unique and bold approach offers much promise and can spur reflection among other funders seeking to create complex systems change at a local level.
Getting in the business of community change requires foundations to assess their tolerance for ambiguity and risk and their ability to engage in continuous learning.