How do you create effective, sustainable social change? This question is one that funders often grapple with as they address a wide range of issues. Some would argue that some of the most effective ways to promote positive social change is to invest in individual leaders, in building strong networks among them, and in building organizational capacity.
The Russell Berrie Foundation has done just that. Since 1997, the Berrie Foundation has pursued the goal of recognizing “uncommon and unsung” heroes throughout New Jersey through the Russ Berrie Making a Difference Award program. Named for businessman and philanthropist Russell Berrie, the program was created to recognize individuals doing exceptional work in New Jersey communities. Since its inaugural year, the Foundation has recognized more than 300 leaders who have dedicated their lives to public service through inspiring work in the community and at nonprofit organizations, as well as inspirational individuals whose heroic actions have had a positive impact on others’ lives. Through the years, the Foundation has built a cadre of impressive honorees.
Last year, to help consider the next phase of the Making a Difference Award program, the Foundation engaged TPI to conduct a national research scan exploring other award and fellowship programs that specifically support awardees in the areas of leadership development, capacity building, and network creation. Each of these areas have been prioritized by prominent funders and nonprofits around the US as a way to build the nonprofit sector and have a positive impact on the issues they care about.
Alongside the Berrie Foundation, we spoke with representatives of eight programs to better understand them and conducted research to identify best practices. The programs reviewed include:
- The Barr Fellowship at the Barr Foundation
- The Boston Neighborhood Fellows Program at the Boston Foundation
- The Community Leadership Network at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation
- The Daniel E. Koshland Civic Unity Program at the San Francisco Foundation
- The Dodge Board Leadership Series at the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation
- The Flexible Leadership Awards, the 21st Century Fellows Program, and the Fellowship for a New California at the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund
- Lead New Jersey
- Liberty Fellowship
In analyzing each program, we explored issues such as how goals are defined, how awardees are recruited and selected, what programming looks like, how participants are influenced to stay engaged, what kind of coaching participants are offered, how networks among participants are built, what it means to be an alum of the program, and what external partners have contributed to making the program a success.
Here is a quick snapshot of some of our key learnings:
- Create an overarching vision and goals first, and then design the program to achieve those goals.
- Improve long-term motivation for participants to stay involved by setting very clear expectations at the beginning and selecting participants who are the right fit for the program’s goals.
- Include one-on-one coaching for awardees to supplement the program and help put the participant at the center of the program.
We are pleased to share with you the more detailed findings of this research in a new report. We hope that it will contribute to your own learning and thinking on how to support leaders working on the issues you care about. Also, if you are involved with or know of other effective leadership development and capacity-building models, we would love to hear your thoughts.