Do Your Homework

How one foundation used research to help support young, black men

In the wake of substantial public funding cuts across the board, many foundations are struggling to find the most meaningful ways to step up and strategically fill the void. Let’s not kid ourselves: there is no way for private philanthropy to close that public funding gap. The struggle for foundations, then, is how to achieve the most impact for the investments they can make, and choosing meaningful areas in which to invest.

In that regard, it pays to do your homework by conducting a little research to find the intersections between public cuts and public needs. For example, take a look at the new BLOOM Initiative launched earlier this year by the California Community Foundation, with funding support from Weingart Foundation, The Carl and Roberta Deutsch Foundation, Union Bank Foundation, and many others.

The initiative targets Black male youth who have had a brush with the law and ended up in Los Angeles County’s probation system. Through a series of community supports, BLOOM (Building a Lifetime of Options and Opportunities for Black Men) aims to steer Black male teens away from the path of incarceration and toward a path of education and employment. According to the California Community Foundation, a mere 10% decrease in the number of Black male youth in the county probation system over the next five years will save taxpayers about $48.8 million annually.

That’s a huge impact for hundreds of Black male youth and for the county’s public funding budget — but the Community Foundation did not set out with this particular impact in mind. Instead, they started by doing their homework.

At the beginning of 2011, the California Community Foundation contracted with our consulting firm, Putnam Community Investment Consulting to perform a high-level analysis of California’s budget as it related to Black men and boys in Los Angeles County. We specifically looked at the areas of education, economic opportunity, youth involved in the foster care and juvenile justice systems. Where were the cuts? What populations and programs would be affected most? Which were least likely to have other sources of support?

In our research, we found that “realignment” of the state’s department of juvenile justice would place the burden for serving juvenile offenders completely on counties. The impact on Los Angeles County, where Black youth account for 10 percent of the county youth population but 33 percent of all youth under probation supervision, was especially significant. So significant, in fact, that the California Community Foundation ended up investing $2.5 million in the BLOOM initiative over five years. The Foundation is actively seeking a 1:1 match from external partners to bring BLOOM to scale at $1 million per year over the next five years.

Without conducting this research, the Community Foundation would not have realized the new juvenile justice need — and opportunity — that was emerging in Los Angeles County, and would not have been able to weigh it against the many other needs in education and workforce development that were also of interest to them.

Lesson learned? Do your homework — and if you need some assistance, Putnam Community Investment Consulting is happy to help.

 

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Posted by Kris Putnam-Walkerly © Kris Putnam-Walkerly and Philanthropy411, 2012.

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