Beldon Fund

Final Impact Assessment: Legacy #3

The Beldon Fund:
Final Impact Assessment

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Beldon prioritized collaboration and the need for strong collaborative infrastructures; in many states, these collaborative efforts remain robust, although they have evolved in different ways both within and beyond the environmental community.

Beldon strongly encouraged collaboration among environmental organizations in its key states of Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, and Wisconsin. The Beldon Fund did more then encourage collaboration; it also supported collaborative efforts by investing in concrete collaborative infrastructure to help build greater collective power in the states. Specifically, Beldon invested in building state-based environmental “tables” (coalitions of groups working collectively on environmental policy change) in its key states, as well as providing funding and seed money for other collaborative enterprises such as joint mapping, power analyses, and coordinated list-building efforts (almost all of which grew out of the tables). Rather than funding specific issue campaigns or short-term projects, Beldon provided large multi-year grants with a focus on encouraging long-term power building and putting the infrastructure in place to work together to affect change on a variety of issues that could arise over time.

“They invested in infrastructure when it needed to be invested in.”

Five years later, the state-based environmental tables Beldon created are still largely intact or have evolved in meaningful ways. With the exception of Florida, environmental collaboratives in Beldon’s key states still exist in some form and are regarded by many as an important place for coordination and collaboration in the environmental community and as a key way to link with other allied communities. Here is a quick summary of where collaboration is happening today in the environmental community in Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, and Wisconsin. (Note: Florida was not included in this analysis because it was dropped as a Beldon key state. See pg. 36 of the Final Evaluation Report for more information.)

  • Michigan: Michigan LCVEF facilitates Great Michigan, a common agenda-setting process for each legislative session, in which approximately 35 environmental organizations participate. As a secondary collaboration vehicle, the Michigan Environmental Council convenes a weekly conference call called E-Group to share information and discuss the most recent legislative and administrative happenings. Seven of the largest environmental groups in the state participate regularly in E-Group. Broader collaboration around nonpartisan civic engagement happens at the Michigan Voice table, the State Voices affiliate in Michigan.
  • Minnesota: The environmental collaborative funded by Beldon, the Minnesota Environmental Partnership, is still intact and serves as the primary space for policy collaboration among environmental groups. Conservation Minnesota, the state LCVEF affiliate, is a secondary collaboration hub for the community. Broader collaboration around nonpartisan civic engagement happens at the Minnesota Voice table, the State Voices affiliate in Minnesota.
  • North Carolina: The environmental collaborative funded by Beldon, the North Carolina Conservation Network, is still intact and serves as the primary collaboration space for the environmental community. North Carolina LCVF is a secondary collaboration hub for the community. Broader collaboration around nonpartisan civic engagement happens at the Blueprint North Carolina table, the State Voices affiliate in North Carolina.
  • Wisconsin: As was the case during Beldon’s time, most environmental collaboration is happening through Wisconsin LCVEF, including collaborating on issues and selecting collective priorities for each legislative session. Broader collaboration around nonpartisan civic engagement happens at the Wisconsin Voices table, the State Voices affiliate in Wisconsin.

The important thing to note is that across the states, collaboration around environmental policy is still happening. While the vehicle for collaboration may be different than when Beldon exited (more collaboration happening around organizations than at a formal table in some states) the process of developing shared agendas, dividing “turf” and targets, and talking collectively about building power continues today and is seen as a living legacy of Beldon’s philosophy about the importance of environmental organizations working together.

“I’ve found that once groups start working together, it clicks for them right away, and they seldom if ever go back. They drink the Kool Aid.”

When exploring the state of environmental collaboration, it is worth noting that, since Beldon spent out in 2008, and the 2010 elections registered a national anti-environmental swing, the environmental community has been tested. Collaboration has become harder in some instances because of political power dynamics and limited funding. Without Beldon’s funding to incentivize collaboration (and with largely defensive battles in sight), some environmental tables have shrunk, groups leaving as they saw fewer opportunities to advance policy change and felt released from what some felt was the “obligation” of collaboration.

“The collaboration is still going, but not as strong because there are fewer incentives and benefits...there’s not as much we’re all doing together, but there’s much more collaboration than would be happening without Beldon’s initial investment.”

Even if not all groups are still participating in environmental collaboration today, there is widespread belief that Beldon’s funding built power, infrastructure, and capacity within the environmental community that has helped each of the communities develop a firmer “center” from which they can strategize, plan, coordinate, and in challenging times, regroup as needed.

“We are in a period of political mess but on environmental stuff we are not losing every single battle-we are winning some and passing some...the core is still intact in terms of the work we did with Beldon.”

The concept of well-coordinated collaborative efforts to affect policy change that Beldon encouraged and funded has become a reality at many tables today. Tables can function at a variety of levels depending on the issue and level of interest from table members. Examples of typical ways that tables function include: 1) groups simply sharing information, 2) groups coordinating efforts, 3) groups collaborating fully to develop shared plans and determine roles based on who is best suited to take on each piece. This third, and deepest level of collaboration, which was described by some as more of a “dream” during the Beldon days, has become a reality.

One illustration of a robust and integrated collaborative effort can be found in North Carolina, where, in 2012, the North Carolina Conservation Network collaborated with Blueprint North Carolina around legally permissible nonpartisan, 501(c)(3) voter engagement work. The nonpartisan work included developing a shared plan, including goals and a universe of contacts with a control group. Within the universe, one group was charged with nonpartisan voter registration and door knocking, one with nonpartisan education-oriented direct mail, and one with nonpartisan education-focused phone banking. The group doing phone banking also did robo calls to identify people who needed rides to the polls, and the information was given to another group charged with coordinating rides. Interviewees pointed to Beldon’s vision in helping make this level of collaboration possible in North Carolina as well as other states, and many believe that the vision has inspired others to pursue similar collaborations.

“Now it would be real hard for groups to get a change they think is needed without thinking of how to collaborate and form a cluster here. It has become the way you think about it to move things.”

Beldon helped develop effective collaborative infrastructure in the environmental community, and towards the end of the Fund’s ten-year period, it began to shift its focus to supporting collaboration in the broader progressive policy and issue community. Today, the table model that Beldon so vocally encouraged has become far more common and has been widely adopted by others including State Voices (an organization designed exclusively to encourage and support collaboration around nonpartisan civic engagement work) and America Votes (an organization that supports collaboration on the 501(c)(4) side). Of course, Beldon never funded or supported America Votes because it is a 501(c)(4) entity. A variety of topic-specific tables have also emerged in many states around issues such as gun violence prevention, economic justice, and women’s equality.

“The work Beldon did with the environmental table seeded the 501(c)(3) table.”

“The idea of tables encouraged by Beldon became a model for how to do collaboration not just on the environment but on other issues.”

Several funders reported that there is currently more funding for collaboration and general civic engagement capacity and infrastructure than ever before. As evidence of this they point to the fact that there are now entire organizations that exist solely to provide infrastructure to the progressive policy and issue community, such as State Voices and Catalist (a national voter file company).

“It was Beldon long before there was a State Voices...who really had this concept of tables and bringing people together. Not all of them worked, and some were spectacular failures, but there was a vision there. [It] has been replicated. They were the incubator of the concept. State Voices is an outgrowth of the key states program.”

Although the perception is that the level of funding for this work has increased overall, individual advocacy organizations may not feel that this is the case, given that some of the funding is going to these new infrastructure and capacity organizations that were in their infancy during Beldon’s time. To continue building power and infrastructure, some advocacy organizations reported becoming more innovative in their grant writing, creating grant proposals for short-term issue campaigns that incorporate opportunities for building infrastructure and long-term power.

“For us, the Beldon Fund helped our organization get better at packaging our traditional campaigns but embedding long-term outcomes we’re interested in. For example, any grant work we’re doing now, we’re including line items that are focused on list growth.”

It is now widely recognized in the field that you can’t easily go it alone to achieve big policy wins-it takes collaboration and coordination to win. Many people, including those actively involved in State Voices (see snapshot), in particular, believe that Beldon helped bring about this shift in thinking, given its emphasis on the importance of collaboration to build greater collective power.

Snapshot: The Emergence of State Voices

Beldon’s work in its key states of Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and North Carolina focused, to a large degree, on encouraging and developing vehicles and tools for collaboration and coordination within the environmental community. Beldon supported building long-term power by funding environmental tables and tools, thus providing infrastructure to the environmental community that would not be dismantled after a single campaign, but would continue serve them over the long-run.

Over time, Beldon expanded its scope beyond funding collaboration and infrastructure in the environmental community to funding these same types of support and power-building vehicles in the broader progressive policy and issue community. Beldon did this because the linkages between the environment and other progressive issues was becoming increasingly clear as was the need to combine the strength of the environmental community with other issue allies to have a greater chance to advance positive policy solutions. As a part of this expanded funding scope, Beldon was one of the seed funders for State Voices, a group that convenes 501(c)(3) tables to foster collaboration and coordination on a state level in the progressive policy and issue community.

State Voices was in its infancy when Beldon spent out in 2008, and it has now grown to become a critical piece of state-level nonpartisan civic engagement infrastructure. Eleven State Voices civic engagement tables existed at the end of 2007; today, State Voices has expanded into 22 states, convening state tables of 501(c)(3) organizations to collaborate on a number of issues, most notably nonpartisan voter engagement efforts.

In many states, State Voices and its table members have developed joint plans for civic engagement activities and divided responsibilities based on which organizations are best suited to take on the work (an approach Beldon had helped model for environmental tables). The benefit of this coordinated approach is that civic engagement becomes more efficient as the tables help ensure that efforts aren’t duplicated and important targets aren’t missed. This coordinated approach also allows the participating organizations to achieve a greater level of scale and impact than they could as individual organizations or even as issue-specific collaboratives.

Funders and state-level groups also expressed the view that having State Voices serve as the convener and infrastructure for coordination among state groups has made it easier for national funders to support nonpartisan voter engagement efforts at the state level-they are now able to provide grants to State Voices that can be re-granted to groups at the table charged with executing various aspects of the plan.

The seeds Beldon planted in State Voices’ state-level nonpartisan civic engagement tables continue to grow today, and it is expected that State Voices will continue to thrive and grow in the future.

“...the State Voices tables’ civic engagement infrastructure is part of the Beldon legacy that is very powerful, and increasingly so.”