TSNE Teams with New Roots Providence to Strengthen Social Change Organizations
Client Spotlight: Providence Intown Churches Association
Facing eviction from its location and broad board member disengagement, Providence Intown Churches Association’s ability to maintain its highly-attended food assistance programs and other outreach services to the poor and homeless was threatened.
Fortunately, PICA received a grant from New Roots Providence and participated in a TSNE-led assessment, proving critical in enabling the organization to implement a new approach.
Recently, TSNE completed assessments for 21 community and faith-based organizations that received grants from New Roots Providence, a program of The Providence Plan, which provides capacity-building to faith-based and community-based organizations in Rhode Island. New Roots Providence offers training, grants, and technical assistance to local community-based organizations.
The partnership developed when The Providence Plan received federal funding from the Compassion Capital Fund (CCF). In crafting the funding proposal, the Providence Plan chose TSNE to lead assessments for New Roots Providence’s grantees.
Assessments represent an important tool for nonprofits to utilize. “It’s a gift,” described Ayeesha Lane, consultant associate at TSNE. “[The assessment] is a snapshot of where you are today and where you want to go.” Through questions that ask why was the organization started and what made the founders passionate about their work, the process strives to assist organizations with prioritizing on how to better fulfill their mission.
For instance, a non-profit organization might currently be experiencing a decline in board members or volunteers. According to Lane, the assessment creates space for an organization to reflect on what’s most important, from board recruitment to mission.
Assessments: A Multi-layered Approach
TSNE’s assessment process involved a multi-layered approach. First, TSNE interviewed individuals from the grantee organizations, and then interviewed a group of stakeholders, which consisted of board members, volunteers, and staff. According to Lane, “[The process] facilitated conversation with all stakeholders; board, staff, volunteers, users of the program.” The group discussion lasted from 2 ½ - 3 hours and covered a wide range of issues from the mission to the protocol for signing checks. “This process gets everyone’s perspective,” Lane explained.
Bringing multiple stakeholders together proved immensely informative; however, coordinating the interviews was also challenging, noted Nzinga Misgana, executive director of New Roots. “We made great demands on the organizations,” she said. “But they met those demands, and more.”
Assessments Align Organizations with Priorities
Although a vigorous experience, the process greatly benefited each organization. The assessment differed a bit from TSNE’s usual approach because each nonprofit reviewed its own assessment. “[This] gave them a snapshot in time of how their organization is functioning on multiple levels – and helped them to make work plans for steps for organizational development activities, like board development,” said Deb Linnell, director of TSNE’s Mission Effectiveness Program.
Next, TSNE produced a report based on participants’ input during the discussion. Reports varied from seven to 15 pages, said Lane. The report compiled both the consultant’s findings (based on what the consultant heard shared during the discussion) and recommendations, which offer a set of values and best practices to direct the organization in moving forward on its objectives.
Subsequently, the report was condensed into one or two top priorities in which the organization would like to focus its energy. An organization’s priorities ranged from program design, to applying for 501(c)3 status, to fund development. The priorities created the foundation for a work plan. Misgana emphasized the importance of the work plan as concrete steps for action, and not merely as summarizing the assessment’s outcomes.
Misgana observed the benefits to grantees firsthand. “The assessment was so valuable for our organizations. The process brought people together to talk, share [the organization’s] vision, and repair relationships,” she praised.
Although priorities were whittled down to one or two, Misgana commented that identifying all of the areas for improvement was helpful as organizations are able to concentrate on these at a later time.
New Roots also offered learning circles, called “think tanks”, in which grantees and other non-profit organizations pursued shared learning objectives. TSNE facilitated two of these learning circles, which enhanced grantees’ skills in governance and fund development.
Once the initial assessment concluded, grantees pursued their goals over the course of a year. One year later, TSNE reconvened with New Roots Providence grantees to review their progress in meeting their identified objectives.
In addition to its role in providing assessments, TSNE worked with New Roots to coordinate trainings for Providence-based nonprofits. Trainings varied from Grantwriting 101 to mission/values.
TSNE and New Roots Providence Collaboration Continues
With the high level of success of the first round of assessments, TSNE will continue its assessment program this spring for RI grantees. “The partnership with New Roots Providence and their dedicated staff and steering committee, led by Nzinga Misgana, has been very rewarding for TSNE. The grantees are very passionate about what they are trying to achieve on behalf of their neighborhoods and communities and we feel honored to be a small part of supporting them in achieving their important goals,” said Linnell.