Beldon Fund

Final Impact Assessment: Legacy #2

The Beldon Fund:
Final Impact Assessment

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As a national funder, Beldon helped pioneer an approach of investing heavily in state-based work, a practice that has become more common today.

Beldon chose to invest significantly in five key states at a time when few national funders were investing in states to advance policy change. Moreover, Beldon approached its state-based investments as laboratories for building long-term capacity and civic engagement infrastructure in the environmental community. In the five states, Beldon experimented by funding collaboration (as well as other strategies) among environmental groups with multi-year grants. The goal was to increase the collective power of the environmental community, create economies of scale, and reduce duplication and inefficiencies through collaboration and coordination. In addition to providing funding, Beldon encouraged collaboration by providing its grantees with access to highly regarded consultants, trainings, and opportunities to learn from one another. Beldon’s key states were Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, and Wisconsin. It should be noted that Florida was later dropped from the key states program based on lessons learned from trying to do the work in a state as large as Florida. (See pg. 36 of the Final Evaluation Report to learn more about Florida.)

Five years later, Beldon’s focus on state-based work has become more common in the environmental and broader allied communities. More groups are focusing their efforts on states as a more effective and efficient way to work than pouring resources into national policy-change efforts. For example, the Energy Foundation recently launched a key states program for its environmental work with a particular emphasis on the issue of climate change, and in 2010, the Carnegie Corporation, along with several other philanthropic entities, created a State Infrastructure Fund to focus on state-based nonpartisan voter engagement work.

Several interviewees suggested that Beldon’s Key States Program was an influence for both of these new state-focused efforts. An Energy Foundation staff member previously ran a state LCVEF affiliate and is very familiar with the Beldon model and its work. Beldon’s final evaluation and the lessons it offered served as an important grounding document for the Energy Foundation as it was entering some of its key states. The Energy Foundation staff has also drawn on insights from former Beldon staff in shaping its program. The Energy Foundation, like the Beldon Fund before it, is focusing on state policy change, and is adding a federal engagement component to make the approach even more comprehensive.

“So many donors we have talked to have moved to the space Beldon was years ago. There is a growing recognition that you need to pay attention to states.”

In addition to Beldon’s overall focus on states, how Beldon approached its work in states is also noteworthy today. Beldon built relationships with state players by bringing groups together to ask them what it would take to win policy changes in their state. Beldon helped partners on the ground identify what was already in place, as well as what gaps needed to be filled in order to win. Beldon frequently encouraged grantees to “map” their states to identify assets, gaps, and opportunities. These relationships, conversations, and mapping exercises served as the basis for the capacity and power-building work in the states. Then, with the support of Beldon and eventually other funders (sometimes recruited by Beldon), the state-based groups worked collectively to address the gaps that had been identified. This state-specific approach of assessing capacity and working collectively to fill gaps and build collective power is now a best practice, though many acknowledge there is still a long way to go.

One example of this approach in practice today can be seen in Ohio, where a local funder (the Gund Foundation) and national funders (the Energy Foundation and the Hewlett Foundation) have come together with local organizations and other funders on the ground to create an active climate table. These funders also created a spin-off table to focus on engaging businesses and other less traditional voices. The strategy in Ohio was developed based on a gap analysis similar to the type Beldon encouraged. This is not to imply direct causality, but rather to illustrate that the approach for entering and working in states that Beldon helped model is now being adopted by others when developing state-based strategies. Similar evidence can be found in Michigan, Minnesota, and Illinois, where the Energy Foundation commissioned detailed “targeting” and mapping analyses to help identify opportunities and gaps in the states when it comes to building greater capacity to drive policy change on climate change. In these examples in Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, and Illinois, the national foundation is entering the state in the same manner that Beldon adopted - working closely with local partners and funders and using data and analysis to drive strategic decision-making and resource allocation.

“I think that this emphasis on focusing deeply in a handful of nationally important states - I think there is a lot to it. So is this ability to bring players in a state together and ask: ‘what do we want to win and what will it take to do it?’”

“What will it take to win is the best conversation to have.”

Finally, many organizations and funders are finding that investing in state-level advocacy efforts is yielding more success and impact than focusing on the federal level. Gridlock in Congress has stifled the ability to successfully advocate for policy change, making state-based work and state policy wins even more attractive. It is worth noting that the conservative right is now also deeply invested in a state-based approach, further indicating that Beldon’s instincts about state-based work were ahead of the curve. While Beldon had hoped that its work in the states would pave the way for broader federal level policy change (a hope that was not realized with the exception of Beldon’s environmental health work), it also saw the inherent value of the state work. It is the approach to states as laboratories for innovation and as places where meaningful policy change can be realized that is today widely considered an enduring Beldon legacy.

“We’re seeing right now an emergence of great interest in state activity in part because there is federal gridlock, so we can reap the benefits of state-based infrastructure investment now. We couldn’t have predicted it would be that important.”

“There is much more funding interest in state capacity work that Beldon pioneered thanks to John ... .Beldon played a pivotal role in how the set of donors who were thinking about a set of issues could impact the work in states.”