National private foundations that focus on poverty have, for years, brought a pretty consistent set of protocols to their community-based work. First, program officers and consulting experts identify root causes and look for possible interventions, focusing on places with a concentration of poor people. Then, program planners study a number of possible approaches in these “places,” based on consultation with these experts and followed by the development of position papers. In the course of this process, the foundation staff develops a “theory of change” that helps identify the most appropriate high impact levers to pull to achieve our goals. Along the way, program officers visit communities, develop relationships and thought-out criteria, and carefully plan the roll-out of a program. The program usually consists of a set of interventions, typically in the form of grants (or sometimes loans) to local non-profits and communities based on carefully vetted criteria for participation, executed on a timeline, and set against a curated set of success metrics suited to the foundation’s theory of change.
That’s why it was a bit of a surprise when we (at the Heron Foundation) found ourselves doing “work in place” in Buffalo, New York. Our Buffalo “initiative,” if we could call it that, seemed to have happened almost by accident. We didn’t identify Buffalo as a target community. We had no grand plan nor set process, and, at first, only casual knowledge of the city, other than that Buffalo was rated the fourth poorest city in the nation, with a particularly high minority poverty rate. Our work there started as a response to a Heron board member’s referral of the local community foundation. That conversation gradually expanded in reach and quality, and, fueled by local demand, began to develop into a dense, high-quality stream of opportunities. We found ourselves with brainstorming, funding, and investment partners. Before we did anything, we were experiencing mounting, incremental demand from within the community for things we might actually be able to do to help. Importantly, we were also learning about things that needed work but that were beyond our reach.
[For more of this story, written by Clara Miller, go to https://psmag.com/what-if-foun...0021bde5f#.2blsqnu2k]