June 30, 2015
With long-term commitments to concentrated geographic regions, community foundations are in a unique position to highlight problems and stimulate other nonprofit organizations and funders to develop local solutions. Seizing an opportunity to address a growing community concern over cutbacks in youth arts education, the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region undertook an initiative that utilized several innovation strategies in a way that would impact the community and its own work. This article describes how the foundation combined catalytic funding, partnership with grantees, creative use of evaluation, and design of advocacy tools to promote and strengthen youth arts programming. The partnership approach gave rise to very different working relationships with grantees, moving the foundation away from its traditional role to one that led to shared ownership among all the collaborative partners. The initiative included significant use of a variety of evaluation approaches, including needs assessment, evaluation capacity-building, and developmental evaluation. The experience with this innovative project positioned the foundation to pursue future community-impact initiatives even more effectively, and this article concludes with eight insights for others interested in using innovative methods to lead large initiatives designed for broad community impact.