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Distinctive Grantmaking

How new brain research is informing changes in grantmaking

brain livescience-comResearch into the physical effects of traumatic experiences on the brain is revealing possible new pathways to change and reshaping measures of program effectiveness. With increased knowledge of the stress-induced barriers to mental well-being, education, health and human services organizations are incorporating trauma-informed approaches into their programs.

Research around trauma has historically focused on war veterans. In 1995 the CDC began the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACES) which demonstrated the lasting effects of childhood trauma into later life. The ACES research has been instrumental to understanding the long term effects of trauma and has provided compelling justification for early intervention. The CDC’s ongoing analysis has led to more inclusive definitions of trauma and has pointed to strong connections between childhood experiences and adult health status and behaviors.

Recent research into brain development is helping explain this connection in concrete terms – our brains change. In one article the Children’s Bureau explains the effects of maltreatment on brain development, and an article on BrainBlogger.com describes how Post-traumatic stress disorder changes the brain.

Bridging a sense of isolation

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2016 Innovator: Budget Buddies

BudgetBuddies_FinalLogo_1At the March 17 Social Innovation Forum (SIF) event, “Promoting Economic Self-Sufficiency for Women,” speaker Deborah Goldberg, state treasurer of Massachusetts, lauded Budget Buddies’ important work and underscored the necessity of promoting wage equality and women’s economic empowerment. Throughout her speech, Treasurer Goldberg spoke passionately about the power of collaboration.

The theme of collaborative power, and especially the collaborative power of women, could not have been more appropriate. Budget Buddies, led by co-founders Anita Saville and Kathy Brough, both promotes and embodies the power of women working together to help other women. Ms. Saville described the financial coaches—women who work one-on-one with the organization’s clients, sometimes for years—as the heart of the program.

Coincidentally—or not!—the SIF track sponsor that ultimately selected Budget Buddies as a 2016 Innovator was also a collaborative of women. The Anna B. Stearns Charitable Foundation, a well-established local entity focused on women and girls in Greater Boston, had the privilege of identifying and partnering with four other funders committed to women’s and girls’ empowerment:  the Miriam Fund, the Story Exchange, United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley, and Womenade Boston.

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This is an excerpt of an article written by Hannah Blaisdell, foundation assistant at GMA Foundations, for the Social Innovation Forum’s blog (click here to read in full).

Grantmakers are Free to be Bold

be ready for bold smRecently we witnessed a grant application from a small charter elementary school in an economically struggling port city spark a private foundation’s five trustees’ enthusiasm in an unusual way. What happened next affirmed our belief that the time funders spend working on process, clarifying their goals, and developing partnerships with their grantees leads to trusting relationships and confident philanthropic investment.

The program described in the application was a perfect fit with the foundation’s stated desire to help individuals realize their full potential while utilizing existing resources and leveraging the community’s strengths. Trustees saw strength in this low-profile independent program’s adoption of acknowledged best practices; the administrators relied on volunteers, collaborated with existing service providers to meet scholars’ needs, and targeted students and families least likely to seek enhanced educational opportunities on their own.

After making a grant at the requested level, the board invited the school’s founding director to their next meeting for a conversation about the school’s progress and plans. This candid discussion further solidified the trustees’ positive impression of the program. They also learned that the school had just launched a campaign to replace their facility, an aging former public school building.

Enthusiastic about the school’s results, the trustees acted immediately and decisively. Learning about the foundation’s unexpected $500,000 capital grant on his drive home from the meeting, the school’s director called it a “game changer.” Likewise, the trustees were elated.

What inspires a private foundation to move beyond business as usual? How do trustees recognize the right time and the right opportunity for bold action? How might a grant that is transformative for the recipient also affect the giver?

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