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Lessons Learned from an Unapologetically Black-Centered Capacity Building Initiative

Evaluation Report for Year Two of East Bay Community Foundation’s ASECND:BLO Initiative

The East Bay Community Foundation (EBCF) and other funder partners launched ASCEND: BLO (Accelerating and Stabilizing Communities through Equitable Nonprofit Development of Black-Led Organizations) in 2017 to strengthen and connect Black-led organizations (BLOs) and to encourage increased funder investment in BLOs and their vital role the ecosystem of social change and justice. This report highlights lessons learned as the initiative enters its third year, including its structure, activities and results, and insights for other funders and community partners that may wish to embark on a similar effort.

ASCEND: BLO is made possible by a Funders’ Collaborative and supported by a cadre of Black and people of color-led consultants. To date, ASCEND: BLO has made solid progress on five key outcomes:

  • The Accelerator, designed for organizations poised to grow, innovate, and excel, has provided intensive support to five BLOs, with capacity building delivered through cohort experiences and one-on-one coaching and consulting.
  • The Stabilizer, designed for organizations anticipating impending executive director transitions, was launched just weeks before the COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders. Three of the six selected BLOs have already experienced successful executive transitions.
  • The Regional Network, open to all 350+ Bay Area BLOs, has given hundreds of leaders an explicitly Black, brave, and supportive space for learning and growth.
  • The Funder Collaborative has grown from five (5) funders to 16 members who are continually exploring new and more robust ways to support BLOs and are encouraging other funders to join in doing the same.
  • In total, ASCEND: BLO has successfully raised a total of $5.9 million over its short three years for this emergent effort.

At the time of this report, we are in the midst of two pandemics that have disproportionately impacted Black communities: COVID-19 and structural racism. As institutions look inward to address their own racism and commit to do more to support Black lives, we see a unique opportunity for collaborative efforts to support BLOs. With this in mind, and in response to expressed interest, ASCEND: BLO staff and funders and collaborators offer these recommendations to those who may be considering a similar initiative:

  1. Act now to take advantage of the unprecedented attention and support that have resulted from the racial justice uprisings to invest in BLOs.
  2. Ensure that the Black community has a meaningful role and a voice in shaping your efforts.
  3. Collect data to understand the state of BLOs, how your organization has (or has not) supported them, and what can be done to be more responsive.
  4. Ensure that the effort has a learning and evaluation function from the start. Link the evaluation to the development of a strategic communication plan to share the initiative’s priorities, structure, and outcomes with attention to amplify the voices of BLOs.
  5. Recognize that the structures and systems in which BLOs are working must be addressed to ensure their long-term health, wealth, and sustainability.
  6. Initiatives like ASCEND: BLO are part of the solution to the systemic racism and root causes that have led to a historic and continuing under-investment in BLOs. To ensure that BLOs have the recognition and financial support they need, funders ought to prioritize working closely and co-designing with BLOs to build race-forward power building and movement building efforts.