Where does your organization sit in your community? Have you interacted with your local government, or spoken to your peers about their programs? Do you have a pulse on what the most pressing local needs are at this moment? What about local nonprofits or community foundations; do you know who to reach out to if needed?
Inspiration can come from an assortment of places, but to be connected to collaborative opportunities you need to have relationships across different organizations in your community. As partnership openings arise, you’ll be set up to respond quickly if those relationships already exist. This could mean getting aid after a disaster to those that need it by working directly with a local community foundation or addressing a significant need in your community.
John Hancock was approached by the mayor of Boston in 2008 with a collaborative opportunity that falls in the latter category. Youth unemployment was a critical issue for the city at that time – an issue that aligned with John Hancock’s business goals of providing meaningful job opportunities to young people in the community as well as helping them to be better prepared to enter the workforce. Knowing that they would not be able to create long-term impact alone, the MLK Scholars Program was born.
Over the last ten years, the MLK Scholars Program has brought together partners from across the social, public and private sectors to enact positive change in the Boston community. Youth in the program work at local nonprofits, but program organizers know that to truly achieve their goal of reducing youth unemployment, participants need additional support and training. Boston University provides in-kind space to host professional development forums, EVERFI supplies financial literacy coursework, and Boston’s Center for Teen Empowerment adds expertise in the youth development space.
How did these groups come together? The city recruited participants through existing relationships, reinforcing the importance of forming connections today rather than when a need arises. John Hancock also used existing relationships to bring nonprofits into the program, a key element that may be overlooked. After all, not all nonprofits have the capacity to bring in another headcount, despite best intentions. John Hancock maintains open avenues of communication so they can discuss these kinds of challenges, and formulated the program’s award process with this in mind. They use their grantmaking solution to allocate a dollar amount for each headcount, which makes it easier to move headcount (or “dollars”) around if a nonprofit cannot take in as many youth participants as they had hoped. This also allows John Hancock to be flexible with their funding allocations while staying on budget.
With all stakeholders, the program has the resources to drive their desired outcome on a large scale. John Hancock also recruits the help of an external evaluator to ensure they understand what’s working and where there may be challenges given so many partners and participants. A logic model also helps keep focus on their most important goals as the program grows; if something lines up with this strategic guide, it is probably the right move for the program. John Hancock and their partners are most interested in seeing knowledge and skills gains in the Scholars program, because that is the only way to reach the desired outcome of reduced youth unemployment. Other inputs, like financial literacy training materials, or activities like professional development, can be further developed and other partners brought in, as long as it all funnels back up to that larger impact.
Learn more about how cross-sector collaboration has helped the MLK Scholar Program to succeed in the last ten years, and how John Hancock is taking an active role in their CSR efforts in this Q&A with Annie Duong-Turner, community investment analyst at John Hancock.