Assets & Opportunity Network Leaders Bolster Their Skills at ALC Pre-Convening
Before the Assets Learning Conference in September, which brought together nearly 1,300 asset-builders in Washington, DC, Assets & Opportunity Network leaders came together to learn from each other and improve their ability to be leaders in their communities and the Assets & Opportunity Network. Nearly 60 Leaders from 27 states convened for the Assets & Opportunity Network Pre-Convening for an afternoon of peer sharing, preparing to lead delegations from their states to advocate on Capitol Hill, and deep-dive discussions on what it means to be a leader in the asset-building field.
To start the Pre-Convening, Network leaders reflected on what they consider qualities and skills to be an impactful leader in their communities. Qualities they identified included sincerity, honesty, the ability to build relationships, being concise and inspiring, maintaining coalitions, experience and knowledge and being able to support your cause with a mix of data and personal stories, all of which are inspiring qualities named by the people working across the country to create an opportunity economy and increase access and remove barriers to asset-building. In order to explore leadership roles and qualities more with their peers, leaders broke up into six groups to discuss other skills they would like to improve on and what support they need in order to do so. Their breakout topics included advocacy, coalition building, programmatic impact and data, fundraising and integrating financial capability. We know there are a lot of people who are also working hard in their communities to advance these issues, and we wanted to share insights from these peer discussions as well as what support the leaders identified as needs in these areas.
Leadership Skill: Advocacy
Advocacy on asset-building and financial security issues is critical to inform and influence the policies that regulate and fund the systems we live and work in. The advocacy group ultimately decided that in order to improve their ability and their partners' ability to advocate for asset building policies and strategies at the local, state and federal level, the Network should create an asset-building introduction series.
Leadership Skill: Coalition Building
Coalitions are important in creating partnerships that can scale services and provide the masses needed for effective policy advocacy. The coalition building group included those working with local and state level coalitions and their concerns centered on capacity to move things forward, especially without salaried staff. A growing trend we have observed is decreased funding to support asset-building coalitions, especially at the state level. Other questions raised by the group included how to keep enthusiasm going, how to increase impact at the state level, how to formalize partnerships into a coalition and how to get more members interested in advocacy rather than just networking and information sharing. Ultimately, the coalition building group decided it would be helpful if the Network could guide members on action items and measurable targets for coalitions. In 2014, the Network released a Lessons & Insights document from our learning groups on coalition building. We plan to improve on and update this document to share with the Network.
Leadership Skill: Programmatic Impact and Data
Measuring programmatic impact allows organizations to determine the effectiveness of their programs and use that information to share with stakeholders like policymakers and funders. Demographic and policy data helps support advocacy. The Programmatic Impact and Data group focused on both measuring the impact of programs and finding the right data to use to make the case for advocacy. For programs, it can be difficult to juggle the metrics programs want to use with the ones their funders want and is also a frequent challenge to get back in touch with clients to measure their progress and the effectiveness of the services offered. For advocacy, certain metrics to make the case for a policy can be difficult to find or the ones that might exist may not tell the whole story. In both cases, the group noted the importance of supporting data with personal stories. This group concluded that the Network could help support their data needs by hosting a webinar series on data collection and analysis strategies (and sources) for programs, advocacy and coalitions.
Leadership Skill: Fundraising
Asset building organizations and coalitions are struggling for funding, which helps support staff and programs to carry out services and advocate. Two different groups discussed fundraising for unrestricted funds, which is something many nonprofits and coalitions are struggling with. The first group identified challenges, including foundations moving on from this work and former city-level asset building initiatives ending due to mayoral administration changes. Participants noted their interest in Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) funds, but the funds are hard to find and are also for restricted activities. Finally, one participant suggested groups create coalition partner dues, host annual events for profit and begin fee-for-service work around training. These efforts can only be successful if you are viewed as a valuable partner. The first group would find it helpful if the Network created a database on where to access CRAs.
The second fundraising group concluded that it would be helpful if the Network could collect and distribute information on where organizations and coalitions are raising unrestricted funds. The Network also intends to adapt the Assets Learning Conference session on fundraising for advocacy and coalition building to an online training system and will continue to educate funders on the national level about asset building and financial capability and the financial needs of local nonprofits.
Leadership Skill: Integrating Financial Capability
Integrating financial capability into existing services, like workforce development, helps improve outcomes of those programs and improve the financial well-being of clients. The group that discussed integrating financial capability would like the Network's support in collecting stories from organizations that have successfully integrated financial capability and have proof of impact.
Racial Wealth Divide
After the discussions on leadership skills, the room came together to discuss the Network's role in closing the racial wealth divide. Attendees learned about the differences between racial equality vs. equity, discussed their experiences and challenges working on this issue within their communities and learned more about Prosperity Now's work and the Racial Wealth Divide Initiative. Following discussions on this topic, the Network will spend the next year helping the field get comfortable talk about this issue in their communities, coalitions and in their organizations and make the space to continue these conversations at the regional and national level with peers.
Staff at Prosperity Now are committed to supporting leadership at the state and local level and will be using the insights shared during these peer discussions to inform our work over the next year and beyond with the Assets & Opportunity Network. If you're not already a member, sign up for free here to stay informed and engaged with future learning, advocacy and leadership development opportunities and resources. In the meantime, check out this Network Leader curated list of leadership development tools and resources!