The Detroit Difference: Large-scale social change

The 2nd in a series of live blogs from the Young Nonprofit Professionals Conference shows that Detroit has much more to offer than Eminem and Chrysler Super Bowl commercials.  More than half of the children in Detroit are  in poverty.  Here’s how the Skillman Foundation looked to achieve large-scale social change for children in Detroit.  With an endowment of $470M they can contribute approximately $20M annually – and they’re taking a shot at making a BIG difference.

5 components of Collective Impact

Common Agenda – This doesn’t mean we all do the same thing, we agree what we want to do, share teh visiion and realize our role

Shared Measurement System – Information that is powerful for our community residents but we tend to only share it with the foundations/donors that asked for it.

Mutually reinforcing activities – Programs and services building off of each other

Continuous communication – Trust is an issue in the sector. Keeping the doors and windows open leads to a stronger and more efficient product

Backbone Support Organization – collaboration takes LOTS of time and resources but it’s MANDATORY to be effective, so we need to invest, outside in people to support this initiative

So the Foundation brought together several partners and decided to focus on financial sustainability and independence.  One partner, the Center for Working Families spoke to the value of the collaboration.

3 things, used together, leads to financial sustainability and independence

  • Workforce Development – job training, employment readiness
  • Income supports – food stamps, extra cushion to save a little more money in the short term
  • Financial Coaching – personal help to understand finances, managing credit, etc.

Data and Decisions

  • Weekly check-ins at agency level
  • Monthly reports with partners
  • All to find trends (eliminate the bad and replicate the good)
  • Challenge – collecting the data while providing services

In the end, data-driven management is key. The federal government is asking for more of it, as well as other funders.  Annual Reports are great – but they don’t tell us what’s working day-to-day and they don’t tell us what’s working (and not working) across several agencies.

To see how Detroit is data-driven, check out Data Driven Detroit and their fantastic blog.  They’ve also been part of the ‘talent conversation’ – the idea that ‘talent’ is what drives an economy, how you attract it, retain it, etc. and focusing on the One D Scorecard.

In (my) summary, it takes large scale funders facilitating cross-agency collaboration, data collection and data-driven management to affect comprehensive and large-scale social change. It’s time for cities with serious issues to learn from this example and get started.  It’s 5 years through a 10 year project, and it’s starting to make a big difference.

Hey_____(insert city here), it’s time to use this model to address ______ (insert issue here).

For more, follow #ynpn11 and @nathan_hand on Twitter.

2 thoughts on “The Detroit Difference: Large-scale social change

  1. I’ll have to check out Data Driven Detroit. I was reading this morning about the movement, and the migration of government to be 1) more data driven and 2) more open.


    1. Yup – it’s a fascinating effort. Many cities/funders are figuring out that collaboration needs to happen, but they’re not taking it to the level of detail that Detroit is. I’ll be excited to follow them and see how the effort can be replicated. (thx for your work at Fundly too! Great stuff!)

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