Friends and colleagues,
Today, we’re proud to share Overdeck Family Foundation’s inaugural report of grantmaking impact. You can read the full 2021 Grantmaking & Impact Report here:
As with many things over the past two years, this project has had its share of fits and starts. We originally planned to launch this report in 2020, but made the decision to delay it given that so much of our work, and the work of the organizations we support, was upended by the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time, it still felt like there may be a clear before and after period, and that as long as we waited for the after, we could move forward as planned.
Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20. We now realize that so many of the changes that we experienced in those first few spring months of 2020 will now continue to impact the education sector, our grantees, and the children and families they support for years to come. So rather than delay this report for yet another year, we decided that now was the time to look for the light within the darkness and to lift up the incredible impact our grantees have had despite the disruptions to their lives, their organizations, and our world.
As many of you know, in April 2021 we announced updates to our funding model that aimed to thread the needle between being responsive to grantee needs and ensuring that our grantmaking was effectively identifying and fueling the scale of cost-effective, sustainable programs and solutions that accelerated improvement in key academic and socioemotional outcomes for all children. At that time, we announced that we would continue to make Direct Impact investments in both early and growth stage organizations, as well as Ecosystem investments that cleared the path to scale for our grantees and the work they do. While none of the categories were new to our work, the way we approached our work changed. Specifically, the updated model pushed us to increase transparency with grantees, provide more funding for early-stage organizations and larger multi-year general operating support grants after pilot years, and offer non-monetary support outside of funding dollars.
The updates to our funding model also put an explicit emphasis on our foundation’s role in unlocking grantees’ ability to innovate, build evidence, and grow. In a time of so much disruption amid so much need, these evergreen areas of support seemed particularly resonant and better positioned us to measurably improve education and positively impact children’s lives.
So where did the changes lead us?
Unlocking innovation, evidence, and growth
In 2021, we disbursed over $45 million to almost 100 grantee partners, collectively reaching over 24 million children. Key achievements of our funding included:
- 22 new program models, including several remote or hybrid interventions that have shown early promise of efficacy and signals of improved cost-effectiveness;
- 20 completed research studies, with eight of those influencing either practice or policy;
- Five grantees increasing in ESSA tier, several with evidence of how technology-enabled solutions can help achieve and accelerate student outcomes;
- 12 grantees increasing earned revenue year-over-year by at least 25 percent, often by pursuing state-level contracts and ESSER funds that fuel faster growth rates and lower the cost of customer acquisition; and
- 14 grantees increasing reach year-over-year by at least 25 percent, often by investing in sales and customer support teams that have boosted customer acquisition and satisfaction.
These grantmaking outcomes would not have been possible without a hardworking and dedicated team that was able to source, fund, and support incredible organizations across the education sector, while at the same time developing strong relationships with grantees and education leaders.
Evidence of these strengths came across in our 2021 Grantee Perception Report (GPR), administered by the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP). You can find more detailed information about our scores on our blog, but what came across most clearly was how much improvement our grantees saw us make over the past two years in everything from the strength of our relationships, to field impact and grantee support.
- Grantees gave us high marks for being transparent, honest, respectful, and candid—and felt more comfortable approaching us with challenges—putting us above the median in nearly all the categories that measured relationship strength.
- Ratings of our impact on the field and our success at advancing field knowledge improved significantly, with grantees ranking us in the top quartile of funders for the latter. This improvement reflects our efforts to more intentionally and consistently communicate about our impact and our work, a strategic priority we undertook in response to grantee feedback from our 2019 grantee survey.
- We saw a significant increase in ratings on the clarity of our goals and strategy, suggesting that communications about our funding model resonated with grantees and helped improve transparency of our decisions.
- Grantee ratings for our selection and reporting processes also improved. Despite our process remaining rigorous, grantees reported it being more helpful and relevant to their work, which is a tribute to our efforts to improve and align our grantmaking process in 2020, also in response to 2019 grantee survey feedback.
These past two years have had a profound impact on us all, but guided by our core values to connect genuinely, think and act with rigor, and learn together, our work has become stronger, more impactful, and more important than ever before.
Best mistakes, and how we plan to address them in 2022
But just as in life, perhaps what we didn’t achieve in 2021 is almost as important to reflect on as what we did. To that end, and in the spirit of new beginnings for the new year, here are some of our “best mistakes” and misses, as well as some thoughts on how we plan to do better in the year ahead.
- Despite our best efforts, we struggled to identify and fund early stage organizations, falling far short of our target in this category, which directly impacts our ability to support and unlock innovation. We’re considering several changes for 2022 to allow us to do better here, including more intensive sourcing efforts, partnerships with peer funders who hold open calls, and ecosystem investments designed to incubate new programs.
- We also fell short of our targets on strengthening key capacities for our grantees due to delayed implementation of our non-monetary support strategy. Given this is a core element of our funding model and a consistent request from our grantee partners, we know we have to do better. Some steps we’ve already taken to ensure improvement in 2022 include dedicating personnel to organizing our non-monetary support strategy; partnering with third-party providers who can help organizations improve in key capacity-building areas such as revenue models, impact evaluations, and cost analysis; and engaging in additional training and upskilling opportunities for our internal team so they can be better partners to our grantees.
- Lastly, we struggled to achieve our target of helping grantees validate programs and increase their ESSA tier, ending up with just five grantees who achieved this goal in 2021. We know that rigorous evaluation was incredibly challenging with so much disruption, but we also know that we could have been more strategic. There’s an incredible amount of innovation occurring in the education sector and, as funders, we can and should play a critical role in ensuring that what’s new actually leads to positive outcomes for children and families. Given that “evidence before scale” is a crucial tenet of our work, it’s imperative that we do better. As such, we are recommitting to this goal for 2022 with a renewed focus on validation and dedicated staff to work with grantees to assess validation readiness.
Despite the personal and professional challenges that continue to surround us, as I look forward to this new year, I feel a renewed sense of optimism for the possibilities that lie ahead. In the midst of the turmoil, I see a team that is grounded in purpose, with a deep-rooted commitment to our mission, each other, and our grantees. These past two years have had a profound impact on us all, but guided by our core values to connect genuinely, think and act with rigor, and learn together, our work has become stronger, more impactful, and more important than ever before.
My final note is one of gratitude. Thank you to educators and families for all that you do every single day to support our children. Thank you to our grantees for fearlessly embracing this period of disruption to continue to provide much-needed programs and uncover new models and perspectives that will help shape the education landscape for decades to come. Thank you to my team here at the Foundation for your optimism, patience, persistence, and resilience, and your endless commitment to improving education and creating a world that unlocks every child’s potential. And lastly, thank you to our Trustees, John and Laura Overdeck, for making all of this meaningful work possible.
Here’s to forward progress, and a better future for our children.
Vice President, Education, Overdeck Family Foundation
Header image provided by the National Museum of Mathematics.