Power of Culture Blog
Through Safe Harbors, the Agency was able to help organizations understand and access federal assistance through the CARES Act, and provide broad and high-touch capacity building services.
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The question: How do we use Mass Cultural Council’s social capital to assist the field’s human capital in increasing organizations’ intellectual capital to help leaders build sustainable financial capital?
The Cultural Investment Portfolio supports over 400 nonprofit organizations with flexible unrestricted operating support, technical assistance, capacity building, and several types of advisory services. Furthermore, the relationship we have with our grantees is built upon trust and sustained via a long-term partnership; organizations in the Portfolio do not re-apply for funding, submit evaluations, or revert to ‘funder-speak’, that perfect Chamber of Commerce routine that organizations know all too well.
One result of this trust-based philanthropy is the honesty our grantees have with us regarding their organizational resiliency challenges, some including: loss of founding Executive Director, loss of major individual or institutional funder, a fast-changing business model environment, zero risk tolerance, outdated strategic planning documents, depleting the endowment as short term fix to a broken business model, internal cultural challenges, leadership recruitment and retention challenges, maintaining, purchasing and reinvesting into a facility, and technology and system needs, to name a few. I’m sure most organizations can see themselves somewhere on that list. In most of these recent conversations, our grantees tell us that they do not have the financial or intellectual capital needed to address these challenges on their own. We recognize that the Portfolio’s formula-based unrestricted operating support is one way to help capacity building, but customized strategy is needed to address these challenges effectively. We were up to the challenge.
To accomplish this feat, in 2018, we conducted several focus groups and conversations with our grantee leadership to help us understand how we can better serve our organizations beyond direct grantmaking. These conversations were invaluable to help us understand organizational needs, deploy some of our unique strengths, avoid redundancy in the field, and create best practices to assist organizations find their own path towards sustainability. In short order, we learned that to truly assist organizations in a meaningful way, we needed to make a continuing commitment of time, build a cohort of like-mind organizations, curate a peer-to-peer advisor system, put some money behind the program, and include a provision for the program to learn from the participants, not just the other way around. Essentially, we needed to combine the advantages of a peer network with the customized individual approach to build capacity for organizations in financial need. We learned when addressing issues around sustainability, one-size-fits-all just doesn’t work.
After these conversations, we got to work. In 2019, we:
We are excited to officially launch this work as the Mass Cultural Council Capacity Accelerator Network (CAN). In our research, we discovered that we are the only state arts and culture agency in the country to undertake this level of systematic capacity building with nonprofit organizations. It is our trust-based philanthropy that makes this work not only possible, but effective. We are thrilled to share some of the highlights that make up the Capacity Accelerator Network in 2020:
While we are just getting started, we’ve already heard some early signs of success from our organizations:
At the conclusion of the formal Capacity Accelerator Network in June 2020, we will be evaluating and reporting on the effectiveness and impact of this capacity building model to our broader community. We will be back with even more success stories, some lessons learned, and new best practices for other funders on how to create and steward this type of trust-based philanthropy with their own grantees. Stay tuned.