Rescheduling Our Annual SummitWe made a commitment when we launched last year that we would report back in person after 12 months. The date for our Annual Summit, where we’ll offer more in-depth information about the findings in this newsletter, has now been set for May 9, 2014. Invitations will be sent out soon!
Milestones of Our First YearLearn by doing. That’s been the working strategy for LA n Sync from the time we launched nearly a year ago. A major lesson we have learned is that our efforts will only succeed if they are community-driven. That’s why we are so grateful for everyone who has offered support and joined us in our efforts to create a new narrative for how we work together in Los Angeles. The old story is that LA is too sprawling and dysfunctional to collaborate effectively, but we are eyewitnesses to LA’s new story of collaboration. Now that we have almost one year under our belts, it’s time for us to share some of our biggest milestones with you.
Winning Funding for LALA n Sync brought the broad diversity of Greater Los Angeles together – uniting our academic, civic, nonprofit, business and philanthropic sectors to pursue and win major funding opportunities. We supported 11 federal grant applications, providing a variety of services that included letters of support, grantwriting and development, matching funds, agency capacity building, network-building and technical assistance. Four applications were successful (with a total of $20.5 million awarded), four were unsuccessful and three are still pending (a total of $36.75 million). Among the pending grants is the $30 million Jordan Downs Choice Neighborhood grant proposal submitted by the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA). The goal is to transform a Watts neighborhood with 70 percent unemployment into an economically-healthy urban village. LA n Sync helped distinguish the Jordan Downs application by initiating a $1.325 million matching fund supported by six Los Angeles-focused foundations who are also LA n Sync partners. The City of Los Angeles also won a Promise Zone designation with the potential for hundreds of millions of dollars in future grant money over ten years. LA n Sync built a coalition of philanthropies to back the grant proposal, helped with grant writing and development costs for the complex application, provided technical assistance and organized a convening with the Mayor’s office to grow cross-sector support for the project. LA Trade Tech and the LA Community College District were also awarded a $19 million Labor Department grant to train the unemployed to meet the growing job demand in health care. LA n Sync helped with a letter of support from dozens of Los Angeles institutions. Lessons learned: 1. Agencies need capacity building and a range of technical assistance in order to produce competitive grant applications. This is true of every agency we partnered with – regardless of size. To be frank, the support required is extensive. The question we must answer for the future: How can LA n Sync be designed to respond to such a wide array of needs? 2. LA n Sync doesn’t create new agencies to deal with issues. Instead, we create new partnerships amongst established agencies and existing collaborations. Complex social problems (like homelessness) cross political, program and sector boundaries. We learned that to address these problems, LA n Sync needed to help create what philanthropists call a “collective impact” initiative. In other words, we needed to provide a backbone organization to help build new partnerships. We offer structure, facilitation, technical support and even a little TLC, but the work gets done by all the amazing organizations and programs that already exist in Los Angeles.
Identifying Grant OpportunitiesFinding federal grant opportunities can be difficult and expensive for agencies. By the time applicants discover these opportunities, they often feel frustrated with the short notice provided by grant RFPs – sometimes as little as 30-45 days. We created a web-based resource that forecasts grant opportunities in 10 separate issue areas. Now nonprofits and their partners can have six months to a year to plan their participation, marshaling resources to put their best applications forward. Lessons learned: 1. We learned there was no other one-stop destination where agencies and their leaders could find these forecasts. Nine out of 10 nonprofits are too small to afford to pay for specialized teams to do the time-consuming work to track down upcoming grants. Now the information is available for free. 2. Look backward to look forward. By studying the cyclical opportunities on grants.gov – the federal government’s grant database – we can predict what is likely to be available in the future. 3. We are still refining our forecasts. And we can do more – specifically by scanning the most recent federal budget for upcoming opportunities. This new federal money is not found in grants.gov.
Pursuing Grant OpportunitiesLA n Sync helped lead grant applicants in a number of ways: partnership development, raising matching funds, grant writing and development assistance and helping with program design. We held gatherings throughout the year to inform nonprofits and other agencies of funding opportunities and to build networks within communities and issue areas. We also developed transparent criteria for LA n Sync engagement. This allows our partners to understand when and how we might be involved, and when and how they and the communities they represent might benefit. LA n Sync also brought together potential partners who don’t normally meet. The presidents of all five California State Universities in our region gathered for an unprecedented session of dialogue under LA n Sync auspices late last year. Now, this group not only plans to meet regularly, but has given itself a name – “C5.” Lessons learned: 1. Strategic partnership, networking and collaboration must be developed not only at the individual lead applicant level, but at the broader community level. This learning led to two key questions. How do we help certain communities that historically have found it very hard to bring in federal grant dollars? What do these communities need to do to prepare themselves to compete effectively for federal grants? 2. Direct outreach to possible applicants for federal money is essential. Systemic outreach – for example, with the LAUSD – also helps encourage good candidates to apply or to help those already applying to understand that LA n Sync is a resource. 3. Collaboration leads to more collaboration. People often create their own informal networks naturally when they come together to share knowledge. This serves to reduce isolation within issue areas, improve governance on regional issues and spur innovation. 4. Informing people and building relationships does more than help put together good grant applications. It lays the groundwork for future success by building a recognizable resource. By creating an at-the-ready network for active collaboration among county, municipal, education, nonprofit, corporate, community, and philanthropic leaders, LA n Sync has become a good fit for the Obama administration’s new multi-agency approach to urban revitalization. Finally, few federal grants can be contemplated without enlisting a talented grantwriter. Yet, Los Angeles agencies had no easy way to find pre-screened grantwriters for particular areas such as education or the arts. In September, the Grant Development Corps was launched – after a team of people at LA n Sync vetted hundreds of applications to come up with the top 30. These grant development specialists do more than write; they work with nonprofits on everything from program design and evaluation to shepherding the application through every step of the process. Lessons learned: 1. If you don’t have a good grant development specialist who can tell your story, you will be at a disadvantage no matter how good your programs and services are. 2. Smaller agencies especially need support when it comes to grant development. They often don’t have someone on staff with experience navigating the entirety of the grant process. 3. It’s better if nonprofits or other agencies have “skin” in the game – in essence, investing in their own grant-seeking. To this end, LA n Sync developed a practice where donors provide 2/3 of the cost of a grantwriter, but the applicant must pay the other third.
Advocacy depends on relationships, and we had to build them from the ground up. The scale of the task was – and is – daunting: 18 members of Congress representing LA County, 23 state assembly members, 9 state senators, 88 city governments, numerous County officials, school districts – the list goes on. Just last month, on our fourth visit to Washington, nine members of Congress gathered to show their support for LA n Sync. That means two-thirds of all Congressmen and women from our County now actively support a project that didn’t exist 13 months ago. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to explore further partnership opportunities with LA n Sync and to consider creating a new County position to liaise with philanthropy on potential collaborations. (The County already has a representative on LA n Sync’s Work Group and Bell Commission.) Advocacy not only works to build coalitions and to rally support for particular projects that benefit our region, it is one of the best marketing tools we have. More and more decision-makers know us by name. And our name carries our narrative. It’s not “ABLA” (Anywhere but LA). It’s LA n Sync – community-serving and community-driven, unified by the belief that our whole is greater than the sum of our parts. Lessons learned: 1. To be successful, LA n Sync needs to advocate for the region on three levels: a. Up front. We need to develop relationships with legislators, national foundations and federal agencies so that we can help shape grant opportunities and funding streams. b. At the time of submission. We have to quickly and easily engage our elected officials in support of grant proposals. That’s why we are developing flyers to let elected officials know when a particular submission benefiting our region is being considered. c. On-going. This is where initial relationships can turn into partnerships – as we continue to meet, inform and educate. A key learning here is that the best advocacy supports two-way traffic. As we ask our elected officials, federal agency leaders and national foundation staff to help us achieve our goals for Los Angeles, we should be prepared to help them, where appropriate, to seek success in their efforts for LA and elsewhere. 2. There is support at all levels of government for LA n Sync. Elected officials acknowledge the need for more collaboration in the region and they welcome the politically neutral platform we provide. 3. Advocacy not only works to build coalitions and to rally support for particular projects that benefit our region, it is one of the best marketing tools we have. More and more decision-makers know us by name. And our name carries our narrative. It’s not “ABLA” (Anywhere but LA). It’s LA n Sync – community-serving and community-driven, unified by the belief that our whole is greater than the sum of our parts.