As a foundation, Overdeck Family Foundation is dedicated to collaboration, both in our work with grantees and our fellow funders. This spirit of learning and collaboration often defines the way we work with our grantees and manifests in partnerships designed to maximize impact, scale, and knowledge—ideally advancing the field as a whole.
When focusing on this value within the Early Impact portfolio, we realized we had a unique opportunity to encourage collaboration between grantees as well. Our portfolio believes that parents and caregivers are key agents of change in early childhood, which means we can improve Kindergarten-readiness by increasing access to high-quality supports for parents and families. We approach this goal by supporting research and organizations that use evidence-based practices to help caregivers maximize children’s cognitive, social, and emotional development.
Some of our partners create evidence-based information and messages for parents, while others utilize messengers that parents already trust to deliver those messages. Even though there is natural alignment, the two don’t always work in tandem. While we seek to make connections however we can, from e-intros to hosting an annual grantee convening focused on shared learning, we couldn’t shake the feeling that we could do more.
We are fortunate to work in a field where collaboration is valued and often hear directly from our grantees that they want more time and incentive to collaborate. We also know how hard it can be for busy organizations doing critical work to prioritize partnerships, so this year we decided to experiment with a small incentive structure to help move ideas off the back-burner and into the field.
What we (and our partners) did
High-quality evidence-based parenting content reached >18K people that it would have otherwise missed.
As part of our Fall 2018 grantee convening, we introduced collaboration grants that were designed to catalyze new partnerships between existing grantees. The opportunity was open to all. The grants were limited to six months and $15,000—enough to launch and test out a partnership, but not enough to create an entirely new initiative. We awarded four of these grants:
- Bright by Three’s Bright by Text & Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP)
- Bright by Text, a text messaging program for parents with 42K subscribers, disseminated NFP’s prenatal content via text message. This served to inform expecting parents and increase awareness of NFP’s services. NFP also promoted Bright by Text to its home visiting nurses, encouraging them to share Bright by Text with client families.
- Bright by Text & University of Chicago Behavioral Insights and Parenting (BIP) Lab
- Bright by Text disseminated BIP Lab’s early math content to parents and caregivers of four-year-olds. These resources, initially developed for research, reached 900 new families, twice as many as they reached previously. The messages also filled a gap in Bright by Text’s early math content, which grew by 26% because of the partnership.
- Room to Grow & LIFT
- Room to Grow and LIFT launched a co-located recruitment center within LIFT’s Bronx office in advance of Room to Grow’s full new site launch. Room to Grow was able to benefit from LIFT’s established presence and credibility in the community to lay the groundwork for more successful and efficient recruitment. The programs can now refer families to each other more easily.
- Zero to Three & ParentsTogether
- ParentsTogether disseminated Zero to Three’s high-quality parenting resources to over 12,000 diverse parents and caregivers through Facebook Messenger, testing a new format for Zero to Three and a new approach to content creation for ParentsTogether.
What we learned
Given that we have never done this kind of initiative before, we weren’t sure what to expect at the outset. We were pleasantly surprised by not only the enthusiasm of our grantees, but also the results of the collaborations (as seen above).
Below we’ve synthesized our top-level takeaways:
1. Collaboration is best when organizations are aligned in mission, goals, and ways of working—and bring different strengths and expertise.
Several of our grantee partners expressed delight in the ease of partnership and were eager to continue the relationship beyond the grant period. For example, for Room to Grow, LIFT’s expertise and credibility in a Bronx community coupled with Room to Grow’s readiness to expand services into that community was a great solution to a real-time challenge. The two organizations’ aligned missions gave Room to Grow a head start into deep community engagement before launching a new site and allowed for more successful recruitment of local families.
2. Combining content creators with content disseminators helps great content reach new audiences.
Across the three partnerships focused in this area, high-quality evidence-based parenting content reached >18K people that it would have otherwise missed. These partnerships helped content creators find new avenues to families, with a symbiotic benefit for content disseminators who did not have to create the content themselves. For example, content that was created for a BIP Lab research study found a new life and a new audience directly through Bright by Text, while having access to content that came from a well-known university enhanced the Bright by Text’s credibility with parents. We saw similar benefits between the partnerships of Bright by Text and NFP and Zero to Three & ParentsTogether.
3. Adapting tone and language of messages for different audiences is challenging, but opens doors of possibility for content creators.
Modifying evidence-based content into a shorter format and a more conversational tone without losing meaning and precision was a daunting task for research partners used to writing in academic language. It was also an essential step in creating content that resonated with new audiences. Ultimately, with openness to feedback on both sides, all partners were able to strike a balance that worked. This experience was a chance to imagine new and different paths to sharing information widely both for content creators and disseminators. As one of our researcher partners said, “It wasn’t nearly as painful as it could have been.”
Adapting tone and language of messages for different audiences is challenging, but opens doors of possibility.
4. Partnership is ideal when organizations mutually benefit.
The most successful partnerships emerged when collaboration was meaningful and valuable to both organizations and aligned with their existing goals. Organizations applied for the grants together and set quantitative measures of success at the outset, which many reported was helpful in guiding the work and putting everyone on a level playing field. Beyond shared goals, organizations were able to learn in ways that wouldn’t have occurred without collaborating. For example, ParentsTogether was able to test a potential new business model for their work by partnering with trusted content creator Zero to Three.
5. A small amount of funding can turn ideas into reality.
We heard from several grantees that these grants provided the incentive and accountability to prioritize collaboration and turn ideas into reality. The six-month grant term was short enough to be motivating, but long enough to get the projects done; there was no choice but to get started quickly. In one example, two organizations who work three miles apart had never met until they traveled thousands of miles to New York for our convening. They now have a relationship, shared work, and new collaboration opportunities because of this initiative.
Through this process, we reinforced our belief that, as grantmakers, we can and should encourage mutually beneficial collaboration and learning. There are other ways to facilitate this beyond explicit collaboration grants: building partnership into grant goals, facilitating introductions and making connections from our systems-level vantage point, or simply creating space and time to be in the same room. Collaboration is not for everyone or for every situation; nor is it a cure-all. But it can be a valuable way to go farther, faster, together.