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Capacity Building Through Deep Listening: Introducing SOAR

By Manuela Arciniegas on July 6, 2017

After more than three years of deep listening to our grantee partners, we are excited to launch a new capacity-building program called SOAR: Sustaining Organizations; Augmenting Resilience. Manuela Arciniegas, AFF’s Associate Program Officer, answers some questions about our new program.

What is the goal of SOAR?
SOAR is our new program that aims to strengthen organizational effectiveness and the capacity of AFF’s partners, the field at large and to help inform how philanthropy supports organizations that work on behalf of young people. We hope to help create a significant change in one target area of each organization that will allow them to heighten and sustain their impact.

With SOAR, we are committing to strengthening these organizations for the long haul. We know that it will take time. It is important to not only provide grants or typical philanthropic funding, but also collaboration and support to build resilience.

What is the relationship between philanthropy and capacity building?
The notion that organizations need help with their capacity has been happening for a long time, so investing in capacity building is not new to the philanthropic sector. The way in which we are designing SOAR is what we think is new, nimble and innovative. We took our time on the front end to talk with our grantee partners about their goals and opportunities and challenges for growth. They developed their own assessments and identified goals targeting the issues they want to address. Therefore, SOAR is a grantee-led outcome of deep listening and engagement.  Many other funders dictate from top down or they give money and get out of the way. The typical model misses the opportunity for learning and deep engagement.

What are some common challenges your grantee partners face?
Strategic communication for community organizing is one. Young people are connected to social media but sometimes disconnected from political action. Some of our grantee partners will work within SOAR to train their first communication directors, incorporating technology for social justice change.

Another major issue facing community-organizing groups is burnout. SOAR will address early staff burnout, lack of long-term career engagement in organizing and the limited pool of viable long-term leaders that result from this burnout. Focusing on staff wellness can also extend out into the community. AFF’s grantee partners are exploring the role of trauma-informed wellness and healing practices within community-police relations.

Universal Partnership is training grantees and somatic-based leadership development in order to address questions critical to their campaigns. Questions such as: How can New Orleans police and justice systems develop trauma-informed policies and practices that consider the unique needs of LGBT youth and promote healing? These organizations are clear that they have to address trauma within its members and then in the community in order to transform it from the inside out. This is an emerging ask from the field of organizing.

Another opportunity for some grantee partners is program design and evaluation. A few of our grantee partners are doing work in their local communities that can have a national impact. One of them works with young people in the foster care system to support them in graduating from college. SOAR will help them evaluate which programs can be replicated to support foster youth nationwide.

Other challenges we’re addressing through SOAR are strategic financial planning and human resource capabilities, both of which have huge impacts on the life and fiscal health of an organization and their employees

Finally, we are working closely with three grantee partners to build second tier leadership, like assistant directors. Many organizations fold when the first executive director leaves. We want to groom the second generation so the transition is seamless.

How does SOAR work?
SOAR is currently a one-year grant to consultants and providers that work with our partners.s we expand, SOAR investment should span a couple of years. In June 2018, providers and grantees will learn what was effective, and how these learnings can be diffused with the field at large to further strengthen organizations serving vulnerable youth.

How does SOAR allow AFF to better fulfill its mission?
AFF’s mission seeks to foster just and sustainable change in the United States. We do this by supporting organizations that advance social justice and improve outcomes for vulnerable youth. AFF is committed to helping grow the effectiveness and impact of organizations serving vulnerable youth because they are often the only sources of support system-impacted youth have. Through SOAR, AFF is better positioned to deepening our learning and responding to our grantees’ needs. Engaging in close partnerships help solve the problems organizations face as they tackle changing systems, laws and improving the lived experiences of youth. This intimate partnership is more likely to contribute to new thinking and approaches that can have a rippling effect in the field of philanthropy and social justice. We look forward to working with our funder colleagues in continuing the conversation of engaging deeply with our partners to help build their capacity.