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Foundations: When to lead, when to host and when to simply fund?

Funder, host, lead: Foundations can take any of these roles. But when should they? Last year I had the pleasure of learning from current and former staff at Vancouver Foundation about their experience hosting youth engagement initiatives focused on public policy advocacy. I realized that the learning and practices could be useful for many foundations and applied to different types of foundation-hosted initiatives.

I synthesized the wisdom from these practitioners into key questions for foundations to ask themselves. These strategic considerations can help funders assess readiness to host a community-engaged initiative, particularly those focused on systems change:

1. Is this a pressing community challenge that needs to be addressed? Is a new initiative needed or simply more support to existing organizations?

2. Are we in this for the right reasons? Are we motivated to create a deeper impact to benefit the community, or to generate more visibility and funds?

3. Is there no other logical host for the initiative? Is there a need for a neutral convenor in this field?

4. Does the foundation have knowledge and stakeholder buy-in to undertake this work legitimately? Does the initiative build on past work, in the foundation and in the community?

5. Will the initiative support an under-represented group to gain voice and power? Are we creating space for community members that are not often heard?

6. Can we demonstrate that we and the issue are nonpartisan? Can the issue be framed in a way that allows broad public and political support?

7. Are we willing to put resources behind the initiative? Can we dedicate adequate human and financial resources over the medium term (three to six years), including hiring staff?

8. Are we willing to learn, shift internal practices and share power? Will the initiative be a side project or will leadership ensure the whole organization supports it? Are we ready to be challenged on our usual way of working?

The full document I prepared is called: Youth Engagement Report: Learning from Fostering Change and Fresh Voices. You can read it here.

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