Academic journal article The Foundation Review

Using Civic Engagement and Collaboration to Create Community Change: Lessons from Charlotte, N.C

Academic journal article The Foundation Review

Using Civic Engagement and Collaboration to Create Community Change: Lessons from Charlotte, N.C

Article excerpt

Keywords: Civic engagement, cross-sector collaboration, philanthropic failure, process evaluation

One way that foundations have tried to address community-level problems is by facilitating crosssector collaborations between the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. In this article, we examine one community's effort to use a large-scale civic engagement process to create communitylevel changes to improve the health, safety, and education of children. In doing so, we describe the challenges that foundations can face in trying to sustain a cross-sector collaborative process while working to produce highly visible outcomes in a relatively short period of time. The findings from this study illustrate important lessons for foundations that are funding and leading cross-sector collaborative efforts - lessons related to the importance of communication and transparency, the need for shared leadership, the limits to voluntary collaboration, and the need for a sustainable structure to maintain the commitment and effort over time.

Literature Review

Cross-sector collaboration among government, the private sector, foundations, and nonprofits to pursue community change is not new, but it is growing (Yankey & Willen, 2010), in part because there is an assumption that collaborative efforts can do more with less (Emshoffet al., 2007). Yet, as Lasker, Weiss and Miller (2001) note, "Because collaboration requires relationships, procedures, and structures that are quite different from the ways that many people and organizations have worked in the past, building effective partnerships is time consuming, resource intensive, and very difficult" (p. 180). Moreover, power differentials, resource dependencies, capacity, and trust issues among the different collaborators put these types of efforts at risk for failure (Fairfield & Wing, 2008; Gazley, 2010).

Community change efforts led by foundations, some would say, are even more at risk given the unique roles foundations play in society as social innovators, conveners, and change agents (Anheier, 2005; Carman, 2001; Green & Haines, 2012). Compared with government, there are fewer expectations related to representativeness, transparency, and accountability (Lenkowsky, 2002; Ostrower, 2007; Skocpol, 1999). And, as Brown and Fiester (2007) describe, community change work can be challenging for foundations because "some will find the work too messy, politically charged, and/or hard to assess" (p. 74). In addition, "without the right supports applied in sufficient amounts, even a well-framed, effectively managed, and accurately measured initiative may fail" (p. 44).

Salamon (1995) describes four risks associated with philanthropic failure that could affect cross-sector collaborative efforts being led by foundations. Philanthropic paternalism refers to the likelihood that those who have the most resources, such as foundations, inevitably will yield the most power (p. 47; Skocpol, 1999). Philanthropic particularism has to do with the tendency for the voluntary sector to provide services to particular sub-groups of the population based upon its interests and preferences; the result can be gaps in coverage or duplication of services (Salamon, 1995, p. 46). Philanthropic amateurism refers to the historical tradition of providing for community needs through the efforts of private citizens who volunteer to help for moral or religious reasons (Salamon, 1995, p. 48). Philanthropic insufficiency has to do with the voluntary sector's "inability to generate resources on a scale that is both adequate and reliable enough to cope with the human service problems of an advanced industrial society" (Salamon, 1995, p. 45). In spite of these risks for philanthropic failure, Bryson, Crosby and Stone (2006) maintain that cross-sector collaborative efforts among government agencies, the private sector, nonprofit organizations, and foundations should help to jointly achieve outcomes that would not be realized if the sectors were working separately (p. …

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