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Strategic Framework

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Expanding Our Impact

In 2022, ECMC Foundation leadership engaged in a strategic planning process to support the Foundation’s continued growth in size and impact on systemic change to improve outcomes for underserved populations in postsecondary education. The Board of Directors and Foundation leadership agreed at the outset that the Foundation’s vision and mission would not change substantially. Instead, we have incorporated what we have learned over the past several years of grantmaking into our strategic framework and have created a structure that allows us to improve equitable outcomes through a spectrum of funding tools, including strategic grantmaking and program-related investments. We are also committed to providing an open application process and maintaining our ability to be flexible and adapt our grantmaking and investing in new initiatives as the philanthropic and higher education landscapes evolve.

Staying True to Our Mission

 “To improve higher education for career success among underserved populations through evidence-based innovation.”

The Foundation is focused on improving higher education so that it is equitable and student-centered, with a lens toward career success. The scope of higher education includes credit-bearing career and technical education (CTE), and other two- and four-year postsecondary credentials. The Foundation focuses particularly on improving outcomes for underserved populations and is committed to evaluation and learning from our grantmaking and field expertise to drive evidence-based innovation in higher education.

Strengthening Our Strategic Priorities

The Foundation aims to drive systemic change, getting at the root causes of complex challenges in higher education, not just the symptoms. This may mean tackling the biases, institutional, system-level or state or federal policies, resource allocation and flows, and financial and life circumstances that create barriers to success for underserved learners.

Our criteria for reviewing grants and investments are represented by the illustration below. A proposed project must meet our mission as well as one or more of our strategic priorities. A substantial part of our grantmaking and investing will fall within one of our initiatives, which are described in further detail below.


Our strategic priorities represent a three-pronged approach to creating systemic change in higher education that includes creating immediate change by removing obstacles that stand in the way of learner success right now; equipping institutions and organizations to better serve learners; and evolving the postsecondary ecosystem over time to become more adaptive, resilient, and capable of delivering more equitable outcomes.

Removing barriers to postsecondary completion
We bolster programs that directly support learner success by meeting the unique needs, goals and aspirations of today’s diverse learner populations.

Building the capacity of organizations, systems and institutions
We strengthen the capacity of higher education institutions, systems, and other support and service organizations to improve outcomes for today’s learners and evolve to meet the changing needs of learners.

Transforming the postsecondary ecosystem
We support large-scale, cross-sector collaborations and innovations that have the potential to transform the postsecondary ecosystem in service of more equitable outcomes for the learners of today and tomorrow.


Growing Our Initiatives

To drive systemic change, we focus a substantial portion of our strategic grantmaking and program-related investments on initiatives. As the Foundation evolves in its learning, existing initiatives will grow and new initiatives will be developed.

An initiative represents the Foundation’s commitment to working toward systemic change in or through an area of the postsecondary ecosystem. All grantmaking and investing related to an initiative will be strategically connected to the initiative. We will announce more information about our initiatives in the coming months. Established initiatives include:

Basic Needs Initiative

CTE Leadership Collaborative Initiative

Men of Color Initiative

Rural Impact Initiative

Single Mother Student Success Initiative

Transfer and Credit Mobility Initiative

Remaining Strategically Responsive 

In addition to our initiatives, we make grants and investments through our open letter of inquiry process. As we pursue systemic change in the postsecondary ecosystem, we remain committed to funding evidence-based innovation with the flexibility to adapt as the higher education landscape evolves. We reserve funding for projects that do not fit within one of our established initiatives but are connected to one or more of our strategic priorities.

Our Commitment to Learning and Evaluation

As part of our commitment to embodying a culture of humility and responsiveness, learning and evaluation is evolving and increasing its role significantly through our strategic framework. Learning and evaluation is a driving influence of initiative strategies to ensure that the work within each initiative is moving toward the initiative goals, advancing a learning agenda and is aligning to one or more strategic priorities.
In recent years, ECMC Foundation has strengthened attention to learning and evaluation and is developing a robust approach befitting the growth of the Foundation’s grantmaking and our strategic focus on systemic change. This approach will be ongoing and iterative, incorporating data from applications, reports and conversations with grantees to make evidenced-based decisions. Centered in equity and focused on systemic change, learning and evaluation is being integrated into the entire strategy development and works in close partnership with the grantmaking and investing teams. Grantees are essential partners in all stages of the Foundation’s learning and evaluation processes.
The illustration below demonstrates three different stages of grants and investments that we support. This structure is used to understand the initiative landscape and design evaluation and learning goals.

Maintaining Our Core Values

All of the Foundation’s grants, investments and activities are guided by our mission to improve higher education for career success among underserved populations through evidence-based innovation. We have a strategic focus on the postsecondary ecosystem and are committed to leadership in career and technical education while advancing the integrated goals of college success and career advancement.

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