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How It Plays In Peoria: The Strong Lead Nonprofit Model

In our recent post about local efforts in Washington, DC, we mentioned that some local Promise Neighborhoods efforts are establishing new nonprofits to oversee their initiatives. New organizations may be seen by some as more neutral and possibly better at facilitating collaboration among co-equal local partner agencies.
But the Harlem Children's Zone itself, upon which Promise Neighborhoods is modeled, uses a different model: that of a single dominant existing nonprofit that does much of the work itself and oversees work done by other partners. This model may allow for more accountability, since the success of a local effort or lack thereof, can be assigned to that lead nonprofit.
Peoria is an example of a community pursuing the strong lead agency model. They recently released a document soliciting applications from local nonprofits interested in leading the city’s Promise Neighborhood efforts. The lead agency will operate under the auspices of Peoria’s Promise Neighborhood Board, a body comprised of local foundation, nonprofit, education, and community leaders. According to the release, the agency will be write the Promise Neighborhoods grant, serve as fiscal agent for the effort, develop job descriptions, hire staff, and handle data reporting and accountability.
The school district has also assembled a lead agency selection team, which will read statements of qualifications and interview agencies before reaching a decision. The document outlines the key criteria that the selection committee will use to evaluate applicants. Interested organization must have:
• 501 (c)(3) nonprofit status
• A history of success
• Experience collaborating and providing a continuum of services
• A commitment to diversity in board membership and staffing
• A history of community involvement
• Sound fiscal management
• Experience managing sustainable programs
This “Request for Qualifications to be a Lead Agency” indicates that at least some Promise Neighborhood efforts have turned to existing organizations rather than create new agencies to lead their efforts. As we await the release of Promise Neighborhoods RFP, it is still unclear if the Department of Education would consider this a competitive edge when selecting 20 cities.
In our recent post about local efforts in Washington, DC, we mentioned that some local Promise Neighborhoods efforts are establishing new nonprofits to oversee their initiatives. New organizations may be seen by some as more neutral and possibly better at facilitating collaboration among co-equal local partner agencies.

But the Harlem Children's Zone itself, upon which Promise Neighborhoods is modeled, uses a different model: that of a single dominant existing nonprofit that does much of the work itself and oversees work done by other partners. This model may allow for more accountability, since the success of a local effort, or lack thereof, can be assigned to that lead nonprofit.

Peoria is an example of a community pursuing the strong lead agency model. They recently released a document soliciting applications from local nonprofits interested in leading the city’s Promise Neighborhood efforts. The lead agency will operate under the auspices of Peoria’s Promise Neighborhood Board, a body comprised of local foundation, nonprofit, education, and community leaders. According to the release, the agency will be write the Promise Neighborhoods grant, serve as fiscal agent for the effort, develop job descriptions, hire staff, and handle data reporting and accountability.

The school district has also assembled a lead agency selection team, which will read statements of qualifications and interview agencies before reaching a decision. The document outlines the key criteria that the selection committee will use to evaluate applicants. Interested organization must have:

  • 501 (c)(3) nonprofit status
  • A history of success
  • Experience collaborating and providing a continuum of services
  • A commitment to diversity in board membership and staffing
  • A history of community involvement
  • Sound fiscal management
  • Experience managing sustainable programs

This “Request for Qualifications to be a Lead Agency” indicates that at least some Promise Neighborhood efforts have turned to existing organizations rather than create new agencies to lead their efforts. As we await the release of the Promise Neighborhoods RFP, it is still unclear if the Department of Education would consider this a competitive edge when selecting 20 cities.

DC Effort Attracts Prominent Partners

The Washington Post recently covered a Promise Neighborhood effort developing in Congress’ back yard. With support from local government and a variety of funding sources, a group gearing up for the initiative has come together in the Parkside-Kenilworth area of Northeast Washington, DC. While there are ongoing efforts across the country, this initiative is noteworthy for a number of reasons. Primarily, it has garnered attention from a number of high profile advocates and funders. Additionally, the effort’s nonprofit structure may be instructive for place-based projects in other areas.
Recently, the group held a neighborhood dinner with a number of stakeholders including community residents, nonprofit leaders, funders, and local real estate developers. One key partner represented at the meeting was America’s Promise Alliance, a national nonprofit founded by former Secretary of State Colin Powell and currently chaired by his wife Alma. The DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative (DCPNI) is also working with the Washington-based Urban Institute to create an evaluation design. In addition to securing partnerships for implementation and evaluation, DCPNI has also brought major funders to the table.
As the Post noted earlier this week, Educare is a prominent collaborator also engaged with the DCPNI. This national initiative is funded by the Buffett Early Childhood Fund, a foundation established by billionaire philanthropist Warren Buffet’s daughter Susie in 2005. According to the Buffet Fund’s president, “the idea behind Educare is to demolish the ‘silos’ that separate public and private efforts to increase access to early-childhood education.” This is aligned with the philosophy of Promise Neighborhoods, and along with other foundations and national organizations the fund will help support the $12 million project’s launch in the Parkside-Kenilworth neighborhood. The effort has also received the support of Head Start as well as city and federal child-care programs, which would fund the majority of the center’s $3.3 million annual operating budget.
As the Nonprofit Quarterly’s Rick Cohen has observed, another interesting component of this effort has been the establishment of a new nonprofit to anchor the effort. He noted a trend in the industry, explaining that foundations tend to prefer funding newly established 501(c)(3) organizations. However, since the Department of Education has yet to release the Promise Neighborhoods application, there has been some speculation about what organizational structure the administration will prefer. The Harlem Children’s Zone functions as an autonomous organization, and a number of local efforts have chosen to designate one strong lead organization to spearhead their work. While some applicants may select an existing organization as the central agency in its initiative, programs like DCPNI are creating new organizations to channel the work of multiple established partners. Whether or not the lead agencies for Promise Neighborhoods are brand new or more experienced organizations, it is clear that they will be held to high standards of accountability.
Considering the recent attention DC Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee has received on the federal level, this homegrown effort in the District may prove successful in piquing the interest of administration officials across town.
The Washington Post recently covered a Promise Neighborhood effort developing in Congress’s back yard. With support from local government and a variety of funding sources, a group gearing up for the initiative has come together in the Parkside-Kenilworth area of Northeast Washington, DC. While there are ongoing efforts across the country, this initiative is noteworthy for a number of reasons. Primarily, it has garnered attention from a number of high profile advocates and funders. Additionally, the effort’s nonprofit structure may be instructive for place-based projects in other areas.
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Recently, the group held a neighborhood dinner with a number of stakeholders including community residents, nonprofit leaders, funders, and local real estate developers. One key partner represented at the meeting was America’s Promise Alliance, a national nonprofit founded by former Secretary of State Colin Powell and currently chaired by his wife Alma. The DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative (DCPNI) is also working with the Washington-based Urban Institute to create an evaluation design. In addition to securing partnerships for implementation and evaluation, DCPNI has also brought major funders to the table.
.
As the Post noted earlier this week, Educare is a prominent collaborator with the DCPNI. This national initiative is funded by the Buffett Early Childhood Fund, a foundation established by billionaire philanthropist Warren Buffett’s daughter Susie in 2005. According to the Buffett Fund’s president, “the idea behind Educare is to demolish the ‘silos’ that separate public and private efforts to increase access to early-childhood education.” This is aligned with the philosophy of Promise Neighborhoods, and along with other foundations and national organizations, the fund will help support the $12 million project’s launch in the Parkside-Kenilworth neighborhood. The effort has also received the support from Head Start as well as city and federal child-care programs, which would fund the majority of the center’s $3.3 million annual operating budget.
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As the Nonprofit Quarterly’s Rick Cohen has observed, another interesting component has been the establishment of a new nonprofit to anchor the effort. He noted a trend in the field, explaining that many philanthropists tend to prefer funding newly established 501(c)(3) organizations. Since the Department of Education has yet to release the Promise Neighborhoods RFP, it is not clear what organizational structure the administration will prefer.
The Harlem Children’s Zone functions as an autonomous organization. Some local efforts may choose to copy this model by designating a single, strong lead organization to spearhead their work. Others like DCPNI are creating new organizations to channel the work of multiple established partners on a more co-equal basis. Again, it is not clear which of these two approaches the administration will prefer, but it does seem clear that they will hold grantees to high standards of accountability either way.
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We will continue to track the DC effort as it progresses. Considering the recent attention DC Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee has received on the federal level, this homegrown effort in the District may pique the interest of federal officials across town.

2009 Report Provides Case Studies for Place-Based Work

The National League of Cities’ (NLC) "The State of City Leadership for Children and Families" can serve as a resource for policymakers and practitioners interested in place-based programs for children and families.

This report, released by the NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families, details a number of localized approaches and case studies that have been successful in communities across the country. Categorized as innovations, emerging trends, and established trends, the sections of the report address areas including early childhood, education, afterschool, and local infrastructure for children, youth and families.

There is an emphasis on place-based strategies throughout the paper, and the report even highlights Orlando’s Parramore Kidz Zone, an effort to replicate the HCZ that we spotlighted on the blog last year:

Modeled on the Harlem Children’s Zone in New York City and part of a larger city effort to revitalize the historic Parramore neighborhood, PKZ leverages partnerships with schools, local nonprofits, churches, neighborhood associations, and recreation centers to connect a “critical mass” of children and youth living in the neighborhood to a wide range of prevention programs and opportunities. Objectives include boosting participation in pre-kindergarten, health and dental care, mentoring, afterschool, academic enrichment, arts, life skills and tutoring programs, as well as linking young people and their families to job opportunities and family economic assistance programs.

When city leaders launched the program, they knew they had to overcome mistrust among residents disenchanted with past efforts to revitalize the neighborhood. PKZ seeks to restore trust between city government and the neighborhood, and relies on several strategies to improve access to programs and ensure their effectiveness, including:

  • Marketing available programs and services intensively through a full-time outreach
  • and community organizing team;
  • Striving to eliminate barriers of cost, transportation and paperwork;
  • Issuing grants to attract new programs into the neighborhood and build the capacity
  • of existing grassroots programs; and
  • Employing meticulous, independent program evaluation.

Other highlights detail how cities have been working with schools, nonprofits, and other community institutions to provide an array of services to children and families. This lengthy and detailed report provides numerous examples of how social services and education can be integrated at the local level to strengthen communities.

Wisconsin Place-based Initiative is Model for Other States

While this blog is primarily focused on federal urban policy, some states are beginning to get in on the place-based trend.

One example is in Wisconsin, where the state and city are cooperating on a proposed zone in Milwaukee. Called WINS for Children, the initiative was included in the state's Race to the Top application in January. While Wisconsin was not chosen in the first round, it can apply again later this year and, importantly, the initiative's organizers say they will press ahead regardless. My colleague, Hayling Price, has written a report on the effort (see below) and is currently preparing another on a similar initiative in Florida.

Readers of this blog are, no doubt, highly interested in the Obama administration's Promise Neighborhoods initiative. But the truly enterprising among us will see that there are also opportunities to transform existing state programs to support this work. These efforts do not necessarily require new state money (an important factor in this era of tight state budgets), just a willingness to recast existing programs. It does take local leadership, though, and probably some advocacy.

We stand willing to help. Hayling's Wisconsin report is our latest contribution to this effort:

WINS for Children - A Possible Model for State Place-based Urban Initiatives: With place-based initiatives like Promise Neighborhoods heating up at the national level, some states are pressing ahead with similar initiatives of their own. This report examines one such effort in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (March 9, 2010)

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Wisconsin RTT Setback Provides Clues on Promise Neighborhoods

Last week (March 4), the Department of Education announced the list of states that made it past the first round of consideration for its Race to the Top education reform funds. Wisconsin, which had included an HCZ-like proposal for Milwaukee in its plan, was not among the finalists.

We were disappointed, as were our friends in Wisconsin. Nevertheless, Wisconsin's experience may be instructive for other communities that are preparing applications to become Promise Neighborhoods.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinal published a story on Sunday that provided a post-mortem on Wisconsin's failed first-round submission. The story quotes Andy Smarick, an education expert at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, who has been following the RTT process:

"Implementation was definitely on the minds of the (education) department," Smarick said. "It's easy for a state to promise the stars and moon, but it fell on the department to determine: Do we believe you, do we think you have the capacity to do this, and can you continue to faithfully implement what you promised?"

The story also suggests that community outreach was important:

Collaboration was stressed as part of finalist Colorado's application. Lt. Gov. Barbara O'Brien led a statewide effort for a year to bring everyone from principals and teachers and superintendents to parents and students into the discussion about how the state wished to pursue its Race to the Top priorities. Ultimately, she said, 600 people participated in the listening sessions and meetings.

Cooperation between the state and city also made a difference:

Nearly all of Wisconsin's school districts signed on to participate in Race to the Top, but the collaboration between the state and Milwaukee Public Schools has been more complicated, starting with the disagreement over mayoral control.

Supporters of the proposed zone in Milwaukee say they will press ahead regardless. This is an effort we are watching closely because of its implications for possible state-funded zones in other parts of the country.

My colleague Hayling Price is writing a report on the Wisconsin effort, which we hope to release some time in the next few days. He has also begun a second report on state-funded efforts in Florida. We will provide summaries and links when the reports are released.

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by Dr. Radut