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What We’re Learning From Our Stakeholders

At the William Penn Foundation, we have been exploring how our grantmaking should evolve to meet the changing needs of communities across the region. This work has been guided by a set of core values, including a commitment to listening and prioritizing community voice. We recognize the wealth of insights that nonprofit and community leaders offer. Their perspectives are essential for developing robust and meaningful objectives for the next ten years.    

To prepare for the strategy revision, we engaged more than 200 individuals in conversations about our current environmental, education, and other grantmaking. We also surveyed all our grantees and heard from more than 400 organizations about the strengths and limitations of our grantmaking priorities and practices. This past fall, staff engaged an additional 116 stakeholders, including leaders from nonprofits, foundations, and public agencies as well as advocates, researchers, and academics in a series of conversations to further explore potential new focus areas and to learn about a broad range of sectors and issues including health, housing, social services, environmental justice, civic education, climate resilience, and more.

Work is now underway to interview and facilitate focus groups with more than 150 additional stakeholders, including families and frontline staff, collecting candid feedback that will further inform our work moving forward. In total, we will have had approximately 1,000 points of contact with suggestions about how to focus and strengthen our work.

In the most recent round of conversations with 116 stakeholders, leaders generously shared their expertise with us, deepening our understanding of the region’s landscape and the many ways the Foundation can better support children and families, expand access to the benefits of natural and public spaces, and advance democratic participation.  

While we have sought the insights of many, we know it’s not just about the number of conversations that matters, but rather about the quality of those conversations. As we continue to listen and think through the implications of this input, we wanted to share a few highlights of what we heard. While some of these themes are likely ones you are familiar with, what struck us was how universally they resonated across sectors. These include:

  • Challenges of limited staff capacity:  Respondents from across sectors repeatedly emphasized how limited staff capacity is preventing organizations from meeting community needs effectively and diminishes their ability to provide quality services. They spoke of burnout and high rates of turnover, the lack of a livable wage, and the need for recruitment, training, and retention efforts.
  • Importance of “trusted messengers”: Multiple respondents noted that trusted messengers are fundamental to achieving impact in communities. These individuals, such as community members, use that trust to engage families in ways that help them feel safe and supported, giving families the confidence to speak openly and feel empowered to take the next steps. The trust enables relationships to develop so that outreach can be personalized. The trusted messenger helps the community member understand the supports and resources available to them, and access what they need.
  • Desire for more coalition building: Leaders talked about the need to see greater coordination and coalition building among organizations and across sectors. Coalition building allows organizations to find partners to connect with, aggregate voices, and foster collaboration; it can promote alignment of services and activities and facilitate peer learning to expand impact. It can enhance community infrastructure and enable organizations to connect families to needed resources and opportunities more proactively. Currently, across the multiple systems serving families – education, health, social services, and benefits – coordination is very limited. While there are many existing resources, many in communities don’t know what resources exist and how to access them.

Our ongoing strategy discussions have benefited greatly from the many insights that these leaders have shared with us to date. Our stakeholder engagement work will continue over the next couple of months.

With these expert perspectives in hand, we will be considering how we can incorporate all the valuable insights from experts, stakeholders, and community leaders into our new funding programs. Doing so will help ensure that the strategies we develop for the next 10 years can lead to meaningful expansion of opportunities and resources across the Philadelphia region.