The ASCEND:BLO Initiative for Black-led organizations (BLOs) is a collaborative multiyear capacity building effort. It recognizes that these nonprofits serve as the backbone of Black communities and are deserving of greater investment to support leadership, best-in-class systems, and sustainable growth.

Convened by five original funder partners—The East Bay Community Foundation (EBCF), The San Francisco Foundation (SFF), The Kapor Center, Y & H Soda Foundation, and The California Endowment (TCE). ASCEND:BLO seeks to enhance the growth, sustainability, and impact of BLOs in the Bay Area by building their capacity. It disrupts “business as usual” and is free from the current funding environment that has historically, and continues to, under-resource Black-led organizations and the communities they serve.

ASCEND:BLO embraces a culturally-grounded approach to capacity building that it delivers in a three-pronged approach: an Accelerator cohort for emerging/promising organizations, a Stabilizer cohort for well-established anchor organizations, and a Network inviting all BLOs in the greater Bay Area to share and engage in peer learning opportunities.

This report draws from the Initiative’s organizing documents, interviews, surveys, and first-hand observations to describe the Year One progress of ASCEND:BLO, its successes, challenges, and recommendations for its future development. Based on this evaluation, principal recommendations can be summarized as follows:

  • First and foremost, this effort must continue, as it is uniquely valuable in its focus on strengthening BLOs and providing a brave, safe space to be proudly Black.
  • Maintain a center on race as it powerfully disrupts “philanthropy as usual.”
  • Sustain the Funders’ Collaborative role as keepers of the vision, and pursue and engage other funders to grow and expand this important work.
  • Recognize that one year may be too soon to yield significant results for the Accelerator, but continue to mine for short- and longer-term results showing strengthened individual and organizational capacity. For future rounds, consider geographic expansion to outlying counties.
  • Continue to invest in building the capacity of capacity builders to nurture a broader and more robust capacity building cohort as it is flling a void in the capacity-building infrastructure nationally. Consider a more market- or need-driven model that places money and resources in BLOs hands to obtain direct assistance from a pool of capacity builders. Retain a backbone group as a hub for coordinating capacity building.
  • Continue and further develop the BLO Network as a unique and vibrant peer learning and networking space.