Expanding, Sustaining Funding – New Thinking Needed

I’ve been part of an Education Technology MOOC (#ETMOOC) this week where more than 1000 people from around the world are connecting on-line and sharing ideas about uses of technology in education, learning, media and network building.

I’ve been trying for the past 20 years to build this type of learning community, connecting all of those who are concerned with the gap between rich and poor in America, the education system, workforce diversity, social justice, violence, public health, and a number of other reasons to be involved. Some people talk about the “village” it takes to raise kids. I write about it and try to bring members of the village together.

I started leading a volunteer-based tutor/mentor program in 1975 (see history) while I held a full time job with the Montgomery Ward company. While our program grew to include over 300 pairs of youth and volunteers by 1990, funding was not an issue because all of the leaders were volunteers.

However, in 1990 when I converted this program to a 501-c-3 non profit and needed to raise money to pay salaries for myself and others to stay involved, the funding of non profits began to become a real issue. Over the years I’ve aggregated a wide range of personal frustration on the challenges small non profits face in finding consistent operating funds, and I’ve built a library of articles that show how others think on this topic.

I illustrate my thinking visually so let me show some maps that I think many of you will find interesting, and useful.

This is a map showing nearly 400 foundation (corporate and private) in the Chicago region and Eastern part of the United States who I put on my mailing list between 1993 and 2005.

Every year I send copies of my printed newsletters to these people, showing why tutor/mentor programs were needed and what I was doing as a direct service provider, and as leader of the intermediary Tutor/Mentor Connection.

The green icons on the map are foundations that funded my organization at least one time. Few funded me more than 2-3 years in a row. Some, like Montgomery Ward, funded me for seven consecutive years, then went out of business, and thus were not able to continue their support. None of the grants was larger than $50,000 and most were in the $1,000 to $10,000 per year range. Some were for general operating expenses, which I could use flexibly to build the organization, while many focused specifically on activities of the Cabrini Connections direct service program or the Tutor/Mentor Connection. In total I raised more than $6 million between 1993 and 2011, with a peak of $500,000 in 2000. This money split with 40% funding the Cabrini Connections direct service program, 40% the Tutor/Mentor Connection, and 20% funding operating and fundraising expenses. With no multi-year commitments, each year since about 1998 I started from zero in raising $300 to $400,000 from a wide range of donors.

This map shows a close up of the Chicago region so you can get a better sense of how many foundations I was reaching out to.

My organization never had more than 3 or 4 people on staff, and never had a full time professional development officer. I was CEO, chief innovator, chief marketing officer, newsletter writer, grant writer, janitor. Yet every year I was challenged to write letters of introduction, letters of inquiry, grant requests, grant reports, each with different requirements and different questions.

Yet we all were focused on helping expand the network of non-school hours support for inner city kids. By 1998 I was using web sites to show the work I was doing and what I was trying to do.

This map shows the Chicago LOOP area.

When I begin using maps I started following media stories about kids being killed in Chicago with maps showing where this was happening, and with links showing what tutor/mentor programs were operating in those areas,

and what knowledge was available to community leaders, business and foundations so they would work to build programs that would provide more mentoring, tutoring, learning opportunities. Visit this Map Gallery to see a collection of maps created in the past.

This week I attended a Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration at the University of Chicago, where panel members were asked to talk about their experiences with mentoring.

They each talked about mentors who “helped them stay in school” and who provided life lesions, such as “never, ever forget where you come from”. Here are some other quotes from the event:

“Who ever is talking to them and showing an interest is a mentor.”

“We need to mentor each other’s kids since our own don’t listen to us enough”

“Foundation of mentoring is caring.”

“Mentoring is a two-way street. Mentors learn from youth.”

“Students who are successful have great networking skills.”

“Since the middle class has left the inner city, how are we going to connect mentors with youth living in inner city neighborhoods” “How do we reach those kids.”

“The politicians don’t care. These kids and parents don’t vote.”

“Why are there only 30 people attending this event when this is National Mentoring Month?” Why don’t more people care?”

I handed out business cards to each of the participants and said “Let’s find ways to change this.” I share these ideas on my blog, and in MOOCs so that people in more places will come together to find ways to support the growth of mentor-rich programs in more places where they are needed.

I host a Chicago Tutor/Mentor Program Locator with maps that show where tutor/mentor programs are needed. Why can’t leaders in these foundations use my maps, or similar directories, to adopt neighborhoods, then adopt tutor/mentor programs in those neighborhoods and make long-term commitments to help each program become the best in the world by borrowing ideas from each other and using a constant flow of operating/innovation dollars and volunteer talent to implement these ideas.

Here’s an interactive version of the map of foundations. You can enlarge the map and zoom in and see the name and location of each. Some no longer exist since this list was last updated in 2005.

With more than 200 youth serving organizations in Chicago offering various forms of tutoring, mentoring and non-school support, we can have 200 development officers and/or Executive Directors reaching through this list to find foundations who will give them funds each year, which is a tremendous redundancy.

Or we can build strategies that educate and motivate donors and business partners to reach out and build proactive support systems for tutor/mentor programs in neighborhoods that need such programs.

We can discuss ideas like this in face to face events, like the May and November Tutor/Mentor Leadership and Networking Conferences. We can also connect in on-line events like the Education Technology MOOC.

We can do both. We can do better.