Tuesday, August 27, 2013

All-in Nation: An America that Works for All

The Center for American Progress and PolicyLink have collaborated to write “All-In Nation: An America That Works for All.” Making the case that strong communities of color - and other communities that have been left behind - are critical to America’s economic future, the book includes a series of essays that lay the groundwork for federal policies that can create an equitable economy where everyone has the opportunity to participate and thrive.

As the book illustrates, communities of color have continued to face substantial barriers and inequities when it comes to economic security, educational attainment, health and other critical outcomes. In the midst of our nation’s economic recession, black family wealth fell 31 percent between 2007 and 2010, with Hispanic family wealth falling by 44 percent. Yet, white family wealth fell by only 11 percent within the same period. The impact of our struggling economic climate has continued to intensify the disparities that have long existed in communities of color.

Highlighting the economic imperative of ensuring success in communities of color, “All-In Nation” uses economic indicators to demonstrate the how racial disparities perpetuate inequality. According to the book, if racial and ethnic disparities were eliminated, the average total personal income in 2011 would have been 8.1 percent higher and 13 million people would have been lifted out of poverty. As demographics shift across the nation – the book estimates that communities of color will be 53 percent of the population by 2050 - our policies must reflect the need to ensure that these communities have access to the tools, resources and skills needed to succeed.

“All-In Nation” explores a policy agenda that includes infrastructure, jobs, health care, education and workforce development, immigration, criminal justice and democratic participation – issues that many communities across the nation are working hard to tackle. For example, many low-income communities have limited access to healthy, affordable food options. However, the federal Healthy Food Financing Initiative has spurred access to loans and funding for local grocery stores in an effort to increase access and, as a result, healthy food options. Milwaukee’s Fondy Farmers Market, for example, supports more than 36,000 shoppers and brings in nearly $500,000 in annual sales. Similarly, without access to reliable transportation, residents in low-income communities are often disconnected from jobs, as well as access to health care, education and other essential services. However, as the book suggestions, ensuring that transportation funds are invested in projects that increase mobility in marginalized communities can increase jobs and improve the well-being of children and families.

Want to learn more about “All-In Nation” and the policy agenda it explores? Click here.

Want to learn more about policy strategies that can improve outcomes for communities? Check out the PolicyforResults.org.

Recommendations for Successful District Summer Learning Programs

While summer is nearing its end, and kids across the country are heading back to school, it is not too early to start thinking about how your school district can plan a successful summer learning program. Earlier this month, the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit focused on public policy research and analysis, released a research brief entitled "How to Get the Most out of a Summer Learning Program" that presents a set of recommendations for making school district summer learning programs as effective as possible.

Research has shown that, over the course of the summer, students often lose some of the skills and knowledge they gained during the previous academic year. While this phenomenon, termed “summer learning loss”, affects most students, it can be particularly harmful for low-income students. Combined with the other challenges, such as a lack of positive activities, many children in low-income neighborhoods face during the summer, the presence of summer learning loss has led some school districts to look at how summer learning programs can reduce, if not reverse, summer learning loss.

The research brief draws on findings from a recently published RAND report entitled “Getting to Work on Summer Learning: Recommended Practices for Success."  That report is the second in a five-part series that is exploring best practices in summer learning programs by sharing the results of a demonstration project taking place in five large urban school districts: Boston, Cincinnati, Dallas, Duval County (Florida), Pittsburgh, and Rochester (New York).

Based on hundreds of surveys, interviews, and hours of direct observation of summer learning programs, the RAND researchers made several recommendations for school districts and organizations working to implement a summer learning program in areas such as planning, staff selection and training, and the tracking of program costs. Selected recommendations include:

  • Commit to having a summer program by January.
  • Establish firm enrollment deadlines and keep electronic student records.
  • Develop a rigorous selection processes to recruit motivated teachers.
  • Keep in mind that it is not necessary to disguise academics to boost attendance.
  • Anchor the program in a commercially available and evidence-based curriculum.
  • Operate the program for five to six weeks. 
  • Schedule three to four hours a day for academics and focus on academic content during those hours.
  • Put resources into tracking and boosting attendance.

While the researchers caution that these are not "proven practices" - the academic performance of the students in the programs they are studying through the demonstration project is currently being evaluated - they are evidence-based and provide the best guidance on summer learning programs that is available at this time.

For more information on this summer learning program research, please visit RAND’s website to view the research brief or the full report.

Leading for Results

Individual and organizational leadership is a key capacity in community change work. As described by the Building Neighborhood Capacity Program, “it’s one of the ingredients that help innovate, guide, govern, track and maintain the efforts that will bring about substantive and lasting change.”

What capacities do leaders themselves need to improve results for children and families? The Annie E. Casey Foundation recently published a report on lessons learned from its twenty years of work on leadership development, “helping people develop the skills, the behaviors and the relationships they need to lead organizations and public systems toward lasting improvements in child and family well-being.”

Leading for Results: Developing Talent to Drive Change identifies five core competencies of results-based leadership:

  • Be results based and data driven, establishing clear goals and using data to assess progress and change course as needed.
  • Use the self as an instrument of change to move a result, based on the belief that individual leaders are capable of leading from whatever position they hold.
  • Bring attention to and act on disparities, recognizing that race, class and culture impact outcomes and opportunities for vulnerable children.
  • Master the skills of “adaptive leadership,” which makes leaders aware of the impact of values, habits, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors associated with taking action to improve results.
  • Collaborate with others, understanding that the capacity to build consensus and make group decisions enables leaders to align their actions and move work forward to achieve results.

The final competency, which focuses on collaboration, is core to the Casey leadership development philosophy. While the individual is key in driving change, the ability to achieve results requires “bringing diverse groups together that can work across race, class and ethnicity to create equitable opportunities and improved outcomes for children and families.”

The report highlights the State of Maryland’s efforts to bring together nonprofit and public agency leaders working to improve children’s school readiness. Through the inaugural Leadership in Action program in 2001, the foundation convened 40 mid- to-high level leaders to engage in a learning process about what it would take to create a state where all children are ready for school.

At the end of the ten months, the collaborative had developed a road map for collective action that was later adopted by the state legislature and served as a beacon to keep the diverse group of partners focused on achieving results. These initial efforts informed the creation of the Maryland Early Childhood Advisory Council. Now with a Race to the Top Early Learning grant from the U.S. Department of Education, the state is developing 24 councils who are working at the local level to improve school readiness.

Much of the foundation’s leadership philosophy can be summed up by seeking “high alignment, high action.” According to this goal, an effective leader is only capable of implementing the shared strategies necessary to achieve results when he or she is also working to strengthen relationships. In other words, leadership development is most durable when it occurs within the context of collaborative decision-making.

For more information on the knowledge, skills and attitudes of collaborative leaders, see this extract from the Center for the Study of Social Policy’s Handbook for Using Community Decision-Making to Improve the Lives of Children, Youth and Families.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

From Input to Ownership: How Nonprofits Can Engage with the People They Serve

The Bridgespan Group recently published an article exploring the how nonprofits can engage with their constituents to deliver better results. Simply stated, constituent engagement is the way in which nonprofit organizations interact with the individuals, families and communities that they seek to serve. Using examples from existing nonprofits, From Input to Ownership: How Nonprofits Can Engage with the People They Serve to Carry Out Their Missions, highlights a range of constituent engagement forms - including input, co-creation and ownership – that can help nonprofits better understand both the aspirations and challenges that exist in the community, as well as the services and opportunities that can improve outcomes.

As the article points out, blending constituent feedback and perspective (“local knowledge”) with broader evidence and experience in a particular field (“technical knowledge”) can be achieved using multiple strategies across a spectrum that includes less intensive engagement strategies (resident input) to more intensive engagement strategies (ownership).  

As the article points out, gathering information from constituents can be as easy as hosting a focus group. For example, Connected by 25 - a nonprofit in Florida aimed at helping foster care youth successfully transition to adulthood – used focus groups with youth to understand why so many foster care youth drop out of school. The powerful stories these young people shared led to a new idea for the organization – a guidance counselor specially trained to help foster care youth navigate school issues. Within two years of implementing the idea as a pilot program, high school graduation rates for foster youth increased by more than 50% and the percentage of students performing at or above grade level nearly doubled. As a result, the school system decided to permanently fund the guidance counselor position.

Some nonprofits take constituent engagement to the next level by incorporating constituents in the development of solutions. For example, Youth Build - a network of organizations that works with low-income, unemployed 16-24 year olds to advance their education and build leadership skills - was founded on a philosophy that young people must play a role in solving their own challenges in their communities. True to the values of the organizations, youth participants help run each local Youth Build affiliate organization and, in many organizations Youth Policy Councils, comprised of youth-elected representatives, meet weekly with each site’s director in order to discuss issues like program policies and hiring decisions. A 2009 study found that local YouthBuild affiliates with active Youth Policy Councils had better outcomes than affiliates who did not.

Organizations that utilize ownership as an engagement strategy are motivated by a philosophy that constituents can and should be equipped with the power and resources needed to solve problems on their own, with the organizational staff in the background. The Family Independence Initiative (FII), for example, encourages low-income families to form groups that regularly meet for mutual support. FII recognizes that investing in people’s strengths delivers more powerful and sustainable outcomes. Thus, rather than providing services or offering specific advice to families, FII staff ensure that families have access to computers, matching funds for savings and other resources and, most importantly, other families that they can rely on for support. A recent evaluation found that, within two years of joining FII, approximately one of out every two families living below the poverty line when joining moved above the line, and household earned income increased an average of 27%.

Want to learn more about constituent engagement? Check out the Center for the Study of Social Policy’s tools and resources below.

Customer Satisfaction – Work aimed at transforming residents in vulnerable communities into empowered consumers who demand quality services. This model borrows from the private sector, where customers decide which companies thrive, which goods and services are available and even how they are provided.

Resident and Youth Engagement Tools - Building leaders from within a community is a core part of the Center for the Study of Social Policy’s work. These tools and case studies highlight how encouraging community residents to engage and lead community change can spearhead better results for children and families.

Making a Difference In Your Neighborhood: A Handbook for Using Community Decision-Making to Improve the Lives of Children, Youth and Families” - Based on CSSP’s work in communities throughout the past two decades, this handbook provides communities with the “how to” guidance that is needed to begin community change efforts, including how to engage residents and use constituent voice to inform revitalization work.

Building Neighborhood Capacity Program Resource Center – A federally-funded program, the Building Neighborhood Capacity Program (BNCP) is designed to help neighborhoods develop the knowledge, skills, relationships, interactions and organizational resources that enable residents, civic leaders, the public and private sectors and local organizations to create comprehensive neighborhood revitalization plans. The BNCP Resource Center provides neighborhoods with access to tools and best practices aimed at building capacity, including how to build robust resident engagement strategies.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Money Market Rates 8/13

Here are the latest money market interest rates of the banks that I've been tracking on my blog. Note that these rates are sorted by APY, and represent institutions that I have accounts at, or have otherwise mentioned in my blog:

0.85% American Express High Yield Savings
0.85% FNBO Direct Online Savings
0.84% Ally Bank Online Savings
0.80% Discover Bank Online Savings
0.75% Capital One 360 Savings (formerly ING Direct)
0.20% Western FCU Money Market
0.10% Chase Plus Savings
0.10% Citibank Savings Plus

In some cases, MMA interest rates are tiered. If this is the case, I usually report the interest rate at the $10,000 tier in these updates. Rates are believed to be accurate as of 8/18/13. I did not include banks that had special, or introductory rates in the list because they are not ongoing interest rates. I am also not including non-liquid accounts such as CD's in the list. I have included a few credit unions in the list so that readers have a comparison point with banks. Ally Bank Online Savings has dropped a couple of notches from the top position on this list. Also, ING Direct has been replaced by Capital One 360.

The frequent changes show how changeable the money market is. Because this is a constantly moving target, it has been very hard to keep track of the rates that I've been getting in my various money market accounts, and this is the main reason I've decided to compile a list of these annual percentage yields.

So, that is the latest list of money market rates. Please let me know if you know of any higher interest rates.


Friday, August 16, 2013

Webinar Explores Promise Zones

PolicyLink is hosting a webinar that will explore Promise Zones – a new place-based strategy introduced by the Obama Administration. Building on exiting efforts of the Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative (NRI) to combat poverty and improve outcomes for children and families, “Promise Zones” will foster partnerships between the federal government and communities, leverage local investments and increase access to tools and resource that will help leaders revitalize their communities.

This webinar will introduce this interagency effort, explore its potential for tackling complex issues, and discuss eligibility for application. Featured speakers include:
  • Angela Glover Blackwell, Founder and CEO, PolicyLink
  • Brian Smedly, Vice President and Director, Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies
  • Racquel Russell, Deputy Assistant to the President for Urban Affairs & Economic Mobility, White House Domestic Policy Council
  • Lisa Cylar Miller, Deputy Director, Promise Neighborhoods Institute at PolicyLink
The webinar will take place on Thursday, August 22 from 12pm-1:30pm ET. Click here to register.

Want to learn more about Promise Zones? Check out the Center for the Study of Social Policy’s Promise Zones Brief and our Policy for Results blog.

Couldn't attend the Promise Zones webinar?  Check out the following resources:

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

ACCESS to Financial Security for All – An Online Platform by PolicyLink

PolicyLink has created ACCESS to Financial Security for All, a virtual platform for advocates of asset-building and economic equity to share information, learn about promising policies and connect with others. Although the economy is showing signs of improvement, millions of Americans are still struggling financially. According to the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED), nearly half (43.9%) of American households are “liquid asset poor,” meaning they do not have enough money saved to last for three months in case of an emergency such as a lost job or medical crisis.

The new website is supported by the Building Economic Security Over a Lifetime (BESOL) initiative at the Ford Foundation, which supports organizations and research centers in efforts to expand opportunities for low-income communities to save and invest in long-term assets.

ACCESS to Financial Security for All is designed to recognize policies that address wealth inequality and connect these policies to community and economic development strategies that can be implemented on a local, regional and national level to create financial stability for families.

For more resources on asset-building, check out this blog post.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Fidelity Foundation Grants

Founded in 1965, the Fidelity Foundation awards grants to nonprofits with the aim of enhancing their organizational capacity.

Specifically, the Foundation allocates its philanthropic investments to these sectors: 
  • Arts/culture
  • Community development/social services
  • Health
  • Education
The Foundation typically awards funding to organizations with operating budgets of $500,000 or more with significant, transformative projects budgeted at $50,000 or more. The Foundation considers projects from organizations of regional or national importance throughout the country, especially those with potential to influence the nonprofit sector. Ultimately, an improvement in a nonprofit’s organizational capacity should lead to better results for the community it serves. In the past, the foundation has given grants to the Greater Boston Food Bank for a capital construction project and the Boys and Girls Club of Lawrence, MA, for an endowment. To apply, click here

Applications are reviewed on a rolling basis.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Sustainable Communities Guide to Federal Programs

The Partnership for Sustainable Communities, an interagency collaboration consisting of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Departments of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Transportation (DOT), has released a guide to federal programs that support efforts to provide housing and transpiration choices, expand economic opportunity, encourage public health and protect clean air and water. Specifically, the Partnership administers grants, programs and technical assistance through each of the collaborating agencies.

The partnership offers several funding opportunities that can help communities address some of their most pressing concerns, ensuring that the residents have the opportunity to live in safe, health and accessible places. Below are a few of the funding opportunities and programs offered by the Department of Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and the Environmental Protection Agency.

TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) – Offered by the Department of Transportation, this grant program is a national competition for innovative multi-jurisdictional transportation projects intending to provide economic and environmental improvements to a metropolitan area or region. The program funds project improvements to roads, bridges, rail, ports, transit and intermodal facilities and planning activities. For more information, check out this blog post.

Community Development Block Grants – The Department of Housing and Urban Development provides formula funding directly to larger cities and counties through state governments, which aims to prevent or eliminate blight or meet urgent community development needs.

Smart Growth Implementation Assistance (SGIA) Program – Through the SGIA program, the Environmental Protection Agency solicits applications from state, local, regional and tribal governments that are looking to incorporate smart growth techniques into their future development. If selected, communities received technical assistance from national experts in either policy analysis or public participatory processes, such as visioning and design workshops.

For more information on these and other DOT, HUD and EPA grants and programs, check out Partnership for Sustainable Communities: Leveraging Partnership Programs.

Friday, August 9, 2013

National Service Task Force Created

Since 1993, the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) has been the federal agency responsible for leading and expanding national service. In 2009, the Serve America Act (SAA) expanded CNCS’s authority to create service opportunities for Americans and has increasingly provided opportunities for CNCS to partner with other federal agencies and private organizations in national service.

Last month, President Obama released a memorandum announcing the creation of a new federal task force charged with identifying additional ways that public and private sectors can collaborate to support national service as a way to address priorities such as emergency/disaster relief, economic opportunity, education, environmental stewardship, healthy futures and veterans. Building on the SAA, the National Service Task Force is chaired by the Chief Executive Officer of CNCS and the Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council. Representatives of 13 cabinet departments, the Peace Corps, National Science Foundation, Office of Personnel Management, Environmental Protection Agency and the White House will make up the Task Force.

The Task Force will suggest ways to expand national service, strategies for coordinating volunteering and service programs across the federal government, create opportunities for interagency agreements between CNCS and other federal agencies and identify public-private partnerships in order to expand national service.

The creation of the Task Force builds on the success of other partnerships launched in the past year including FEMA Corps, School Turnaround AmeriCorps, and STEM AmeriCorps.

For more information, check out the Task Force’s website.

Stay tuned to our blog for updates on the newly-created National Service Task Force.