Giving Compass' Take:
- Investing in civic infrastructure to advance youth development can help serve the needs of kids in the community.
- StriveTogether suggests that these investments be unrestricted. What are the benefits of flexible funding?
- Learn more about building a thriving civic space.
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In an ideal community, resources would flow to support kids. Public and private funders would invest in what’s working to get better and more equitable outcomes. Instead of competing for dollars, organizations could work together to make sure that each has what they need to fulfill their mission and contribute to the community’s shared vision.
Across the country, members of the StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network are building the civic infrastructure needed to make that a reality. Civic infrastructure joins leaders and community members so they work collaboratively, using data, to improve outcomes. It makes it possible to shift resources to where they’re needed most and supports community members to make decisions about how resources are used.
Shifting resources makes it possible to transform systems, and transformed systems mean that kids and families can thrive. But how can communities get past scarcity, inflexibility and competition? The lessons of civic infrastructure are a good place to start.
By learning from Cradle to Career Network communities and through work with Nonprofit Finance Fund, we’ve seen how resources can be allocated and used effectively and equitably through focusing on outcomes, collaborating across sectors and following the lead of the community.
Civic infrastructure isn’t something we can see or touch. It takes tangible work to build civic infrastructure, including connecting people and organizations, creating and maintaining data systems, advocating for policy changes and more. But it can be harder to measure and less appealing to funders when compared with traditional direct service work. Often, the work of building civic infrastructure gets classified as “overhead,” which is systematically underfunded.
To support the strong civic infrastructure that communities need, funders need to focus on outcomes — like student success measures — rather than outputs, like the number of students served by a program.
Programming is frequently tied to funding. But what happens when the grant runs out? Often, progress is lost, with no lasting difference made for youth. The efforts of a community should instead be tied to the community’s shared vision, and funding should support this shift. When a group is committed to improving outcomes for kids and families — and when funding supports that commitment — the work gains the continuity it needs to make a true impact.
To get better outcomes, public and private funders need to uncouple their funding from outputs. Funders should instead make unrestricted investments in the organizations that are building civic infrastructure, so that the community can respond to the evolving needs of youth and families.
Read the full article about youth development and civic infrastructure from StriveTogether at Medium.