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Answering Your Questions About Our New Strategic Framework

Recap of Our Virtual Town Hall on December 14, 2022

January 11, 2023

In November 2022, ECMC Foundation announced its first new strategic framework since its shift to strategic grantmaking in 2014. We held a virtual Town Hall on December 14, 2022, to share more details about how our work to date informed the evolution of our strategy and to share how this new framework will shape our work moving forward.

The full recording and slides are available for review at any time. A recap of the conversation is below. If you have any additional questions, please reach out to ecmcfoundation@ecmc.org.

Our Mission Remains Unchanged

ECMC Foundation President Peter J. Taylor and Vice President Lynn Alvarez shared a brief presentation on the strategic framework, explaining the role learning and evaluation play in this work and how prospective partners can apply for a grant.

They began by affirming that ECMC Foundation’s mission to improve higher education for career success among underserved populations through evidence-based innovation remains unchanged. This means that we will continue to emphasize the importance of postsecondary career and technical education (CTE) to our work, a critical piece of supporting learners who prefer pathways other than a four-year degree. “That support won’t change,” Taylor said. “It’s part of our DNA.”

Another continued commitment within the new framework is the use of a range of funding methods, including strategic grantmaking and program-related investments, to support our partners and advance the field.

Eight Years of Learnings Informed the New Strategic Framework

In 2014, the Foundation shifted from a scholarship-granting organization into a strategic grantmaker, an evolution that established key focus areas where we could test and scale solutions. These focus areas – Career Readiness and College Success – allowed us to fine-tune our understanding of the field.

What we learned over the course of more than $250 million in grants and investments is that the field of higher education is in great need of systemic change, particularly the kind of change that bridges entrenched siloes of learning. That’s what we have learned from our more than one thousand grantee partners over the years.

In 2021, our Board of Directors and staff decided it was the right time to apply these lessons learned and launch our first formal strategic planning process since the Foundation’s inception. We wanted to develop a structure for advancing impact that offered the flexibility to adapt the Foundation’s grantmaking and investment focus areas as the higher education landscape evolves. This new framework will allow us to deepen existing and emerging work in promising areas to improve postsecondary persistence and completion for students from underserved backgrounds. This includes improving systems for learners pursuing certificate, AA, and BA programs with majors ranging from CTE to liberal arts. Ultimately, we are interested in those educational opportunities which position students for careers that pay a family-sustaining wage. 

As the Foundation prepares to welcome its first new president when Peter J. Taylor retires in 2023, this new strategic framework harnesses learnings from the Foundation’s work to date to effect change in the years to come.

Three New Strategic Priorities Will Guide Our Work Moving Forward

The traditional higher education environment was not designed for everyone. Despite some progress, further systemic change is needed to go beyond alleviating the symptoms of a problem to truly shifting the conditions that hold problems in place.

Moving forward, the Foundation will operate using a strategic framework that emphasizes three strategic priorities:

  • Removing barriers to postsecondary completion;
  • Building the capacity of institutions, systems and organizations; and
  • Transforming the postsecondary ecosystem.

To address big complex challenges like those facing higher education today, we see value in serving students, institutions and the broader postsecondary ecosystem. These three priorities allow us to cover broader territory with focused efforts.

Initiatives Will Focus Our Grantmaking and Investments toward Key Opportunities for Systemic Change

Our grants and investments will concentrate on initiatives or thematic areas where we commit to strategic grantmaking, learning and partnership over a multi-year period.

A focus on initiatives represents a commitment to working toward systemic change. We currently have five initiatives that have emerged after years of grantmaking and investing, research and engagement with experts. The new framework also establishes a process for developing, implementing and assessing new initiatives as the higher education landscape evolves – and as our learnings clarify our work.

The five current initiatives include:

  • Single Mother Student Success
  • Basic Needs
  • Transfer and Credit Mobility
  • CTE Leadership Collaborative
  • Men of Color

We will continue to explore creating new initiatives and expect to roll those out in the months and years ahead.

Vice President of Programs and Strategy Lynn Alvarez explained that in contrast to one-off investments or grants, an initiative is forward looking, multi-year and involves significant funding in the multi-million dollar range. The most important distinction is that initiatives have a clear point of view of what we are trying to accomplish with articulated goals and metrics that will be tracked over time.

The process for developing a new initiative includes:

  • Identifying an area of need and opportunity for impact
  • Developing a foundation point of view and theory of change
  • Proposing an initiative with desired impact, recommended funding and estimated time commitment
  • Providing the appropriate staffing, including the integration of learning and evaluation staff for the initiative
  • Creating an environment that includes a continuous learning loop and the ability for the evolution of an initiative

In addition, strategically responsive funding will remain core to our work and include grants that meet our mission and at least one of our strategic priorities but do not currently align with an identified initiative. This year, up to 25% of our grantmaking budget is reserved for strategically responsive grantmaking, which will allow us to explore areas of funding that might eventually develop into initiatives.

Alvarez noted that all grants and investments, whether they fall within an initiative or are considered strategically responsive, need to work towards systemic change.

We Aim to Model an Evidence-Based Approach to Systemic Change

Since our shift to strategic grantmaking in 2014, ECMC Foundation’s approach to systemic change has been through evidence-based innovation. We use evidence to scale promising solutions to some of higher education’s most persistent challenges.

Alvarez provided an overview of how initiatives fit into an evidence-based approach that honors the progression and phases of systemic change. Learning and evaluation of the initiatives falls into the following categories:

  • Testing and Learning – those in the early stages that test new ideas and identify the policies, programs and interventions that exist. These initiatives develop our knowledge and the knowledge of the field in general.
  • Validating and Implementing - those where potential solutions are being implemented and validated. These initiatives are how we get a better idea of what works.
  • Scaling – those where promising approaches have been validated and our funding can help drive broad adoption of what works. These initiatives help establish new baselines for the field.

How to Apply

ECMC Foundation will maintain its commitment to being open and transparent. We accept LOIs or Letters of Inquiry or Interest on a rolling basis through the online portal on our website. All funding requests will initiate through our online LOI process, whether you believe your project could be part of an initiative or whether you believe it would be categorized as strategically responsive. The Foundation will determine how and where you project fits within our framework.

Those LOIs that most closely reflect ECMC Foundation’s strategic priorities will be invited to submit a full grant proposal.

If you are a for-profit company or a nonprofit with a dedicated revenue stream that is looking for information on our program-related investments, you can visit the Education Innovation Ventures page on our website to learn more about eligibility.

We are excited to hear your ideas on how we can improve student outcomes.

Q&A

The town hall concluded with an opportunity for attendees to ask questions about ECMC Foundation’s new strategic framework. Answers to these questions and more can be found in our Frequently Asked Questions page, which has been updated to include questions we heard during the Town Hall.

If you have any questions or concerns please feel free to contact ecmcfoundation@ecmc.org.

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