President's Corner

Achieving and Sustaining Greatness

February 1, 2008

Luz Vega-Marquis
By Luz Vega-Marquis
President and CEO

Our accomplishments in 2007 were many.

As I reflect on 2007, I see it as a year of breakthrough efforts and results. At this time last year, I shared with you some thoughts from Good to Great by Jim Collins, who wrote that going from good to great happens in two phases: the buildup (preparation for greatness) and the breakthrough (achieving and sustaining greatness). After years of preparation, Marguerite Casey Foundation is now achieving and sustaining greatness — as borne out by internal reviews and external audits — greatness in its internal operations, greatness in its grantee portfolio, and greatness in the non-grantmaking strategies that amplify the Foundation’s core grantmaking.

Our accomplishments in 2007 were many: improving our internal systems; attracting talented people to work at the Foundation; refining our grantee portfolio; building the capacity of grantee organizations through convenings; forming the Movement Building Study Group; developing concise communications messages and materials, and launching the Equal Voice for America’s Families (Equal Voice) campaign. Our activities in 2007 generated social benefits beyond the face value of our grants by supporting the work of grantees, attracting others to join our efforts to build a movement for change, and contributing creative approaches to the field.

The assistance I have received from my executive coach has been invaluable in supporting my efforts to communicate our core priorities to the staff and to provide the leadership necessary to advance our work and develop the Foundation. In terms of an organization’s life cycle, we have moved through the Foundation’s introduction and growth phases and entered maturity,characterized by a decreasing rate of change, a stable staff and a stable culture. In the maturity phase, an organization must formalize systems, invest in planning to stay fresh, support staff through human resource development, and adopt strategies to encourage innovation and avoid stagnation, all of which we are pursuing with eagerness and success.

Reflecting on the work of the Foundation in 2007 — work which built on all our previous efforts – I know we have pursued the right strategies to bring the Foundation to a point of maturity. We are sustaining the Foundation’s work with the systems, planning, staff development and fresh strategies necessary to maintain excellence in everything we do. In short, we are ready for the momentous opportunities and challenges that 2008 will bring.

Looking Back at 2007

During 2007, Marguerite Casey Foundation made significant progress toward its overarching
goals and toward building its capacity to foster change:

  • In 2007, the Foundation had 212 active grants and made more than $30 million in payments; since its inception, the Foundation has made nearly $122 million in grants.
  • We completed the Center for Effective Philanthropy Board Self-Assessment and Grantee Perception Report to inform our efforts to strengthen every level of the Foundation’s operations and programs.
  • We continued to learn about and fund the different asset allocations category, i.e. real estate and private equity and structured Mission Related Investments (MRI) in order to better utilize its strategy to further the mission of the Foundation as we continue to operate within budget.
  • The Board of Directors participated in a joint meeting with members of the Equal Voice National Planning Committee in August 2007.
  • We developed the Foundation’s internal leadership with the addition of Kelly Brown as director of programs and evaluation and through Leadership Team planning sessions.
  • We strengthened our relationship with Casey Family Programs by engaging our colleagues in all aspects of Foundation work.
  • We produced and distributed the Foundation’s 2006 annual report, Movement: Action That Creates Change, and a proceedings paper on the 2006 regional grantee convenings.
  • We finalized the plans for the Equal Voice campaign by drawing on the expertise of our grantees, including the Movement Building Study Group, which we convened in May 2007 to develop campaign strategies and to form national and regional planning committees.
  • We held our second national grantee convening, Linked Futures: Equal Voice for America’s Families, in Atlanta, September 20-22, 2007, at which we formally launched the Equal Voice campaign and offered capacity-building opportunities for grantees.
  • We hired talented coordinators to organize the Equal Voice campaign at the local and regional levels, and they have worked with grantees to plan townhall committee meetings in preparation for the multicity conventions in September 2008.

In every region, we have witnessed the success of our grantees and learned from their challenges, as reflected in the current close out reports. In Chicago, the Southwest Youth Collaborative used its recent grant to engage, train and mobilize hundreds of youth leaders, who produced policy changes in the Chicago Police District and in the Chicago Public Schools, and increased state funding for youth programs. In the Deep South, the Mississippi Workers’ Center for Human Rights reached more than 700 grassroots leaders and 12,000 workers, building momentum for new workers’ compensation legislation, which it will continue to work toward with its renewed grant. In the Southwest/U.S.-Mexico Border Region, Casa Familiar trained residents in city planning, and families got involved in the redesign of the border-crossing station in their neighborhood, resulting in plans for a more humane station that is responsive to the community’s needs.

The process of refining the grantee portfolio requires recognizing which grants do not advance the Foundation’s goals and strategies. The majority of the national grantees in the current group of close out reports were not renewed because they do not embody the refined strategies for the national portfolio we adopted in 2006. The Finance Project and Institute for Democratic Renewal/Project Change conduct fine work, but they do not advance the central goals of the national portfolio to strengthen family leadership and support local efforts. Working for America Institute AFL-CIO and Parents Anonymous did not meet their stated goals of working to empower families; therefore, the Foundation did not renew those grants.

The grantees that remain in the portfolio exemplify the Foundation’s strategies and have a history of effective programs that strengthen the voice of low-wealth families. As the grantees that received renewal grants demonstrate, Marguerite Casey Foundation is supporting innovative work, building the strength of anchor organizations, and weaving together strategic partners at the regional and national levels.

Looking Forward to 2008

We enter our seventh year with a refined grantee portfolio, with strong internal systems, with talented people on staff and in leadership positions, and with a clear vision for the future. During 2008, we look forward to the following:

  • We will make $30 million in grants.
  • To bring national attention to issues facing low-wealth families, we will spend significant time and effort preparing for the September 2008 multicity Equal Voice conventions.
  • Building on the momentum of the Equal Voice campaign, we will plan long-term grantmaking and non-grantmaking strategies that will promote a family-led movement to lift all families out of poverty.

Since its inception, Marguerite Casey Foundation has set and worked toward ambitious goals. Indeed, nothing could be more ambitious or profound than endeavoring to build a movement of and for low-wealth families. As always, we must be shrewd in our strategies and in our use of resources to make that goal a reality. I have told our staff that we cannot do it all. Although we are hesitant to give up or postpone any goals, we must find the balance that will sustain our grantees and our staff over the long term. To this end, we will place our focus in 2008 where it is most needed and strategic, and postpone what we can until 2009. For example, we are planning no special convenings of grantees in 2008, as such an effort would not align with our priorities for the year. In 2008, we will pace ourselves and continue the core business of the Foundation without interruption while executing the campaign and working to raise the visibility of issues facing low-wealth families.

Close Out Reports

The Foundation completed its fourth formal review of completed grants. Enclosed you will find close out reports for 24 grants that ended in 2007, along with a cover memo that draws out key findings and grantee highlights. Beginning with this review, we will present close out reports on a quarterly basis. Reviewing a smaller number of reports each quarter will enable the Foundation to spend more time analyzing the individual results and drawing out the lessons learned from the grants. More information is presented in the enclosed close out reports and the accompanying cover memo.

Finances

The Foundation enjoyed a positive year for its investments. The total investment portfolio increased by $21.7 million in 2007. The total investment return for the year was 8.3%. With inflation running at 4.1% in 2007, the Foundation earned just over 4 percentage points over inflation for the year. The Foundation ended the year with total investments of $739.7 million. The allocation among asset categories was closely aligned with the interim policy targets throughout the year.

The year saw a variety of enhancements to the Foundation’s investment program. Most prominently, the Foundation made its initial investments in real estate, via commitments to four different real estate funds. In addition, the Foundation added an actively-managed foreign stock investment- the BGI Global Ex-US Alpha Tilts Fund. Finally, the Foundation continued to add to the two private equity investments it first made at the end of 2006.

In regards to the financial performance for 2007, we have met our budgeted grant making target of $30 million in commitments. This is largely due to the additional $480,000 in Equal Voice Campaign Fund grants that were approved by the Board. In other areas of our budget, we had a significant positive variance, approximately $755,000 in total expenses for the year. Overall, our non-grant expenses remained within budget while we achieved our cash distribution targets for the year.

Equal Voice for America’s Families Campaign

In each region, tremendous energy has emerged around the Equal Voice campaign as a vehicle for Movement Building. Families immediately understand the concept of Equal Voice because they have been seeking a way to plug into a vibrant movement. We are helping families realize they have the power to change systems, to embrace opportunities and to connect with other families across the nation. We may not achieve the ultimate change we seek this year, but I have no doubt we will dramatically strengthen the voice of families to achieve a more just and equitable society for all.

The Equal Voice campaign is fully under way. In January 2008, townhall meetings were held in Louisiana, Georgia, Texas, New Mexico and Washington, with many more planned for the coming months. The townhall meetings will serve as vehicles for engaging families in the campaign and for gathering input to shape the National Family Platform. The platform will be released at the conventions, which will take place on September 6, 2008, in Birmingham, Chicago and Los Angeles, with at least 3,000 families expected at each event.

The draft of the National Family Platform will be presented to Marguerite Casey Foundation’s Board of Directors in August 2008. We expect the National Family Platform will put forward a common agenda for a cross-cultural movement that is grounded in improving the economic well-being of families. The conventions will consist of the ratification of the platform, press conferences and celebrations.

We are already considering what will come after the Equal Voice campaign and the conventions. As families come together throughout the year in townhall meetings and in the conventions, some planning for what comes next will occur naturally. One possibility we are exploring is the creation of a family-led membership organization, similar to AARP, that will address and advance issues facing low-wealth families.

The campaign activities give us the opportunity to learn about emerging issues, such as the challenges facing children of incarcerated parents, an issue we are discussing with Casey Family Programs. During the year, I expect we will learn more about that issue and others and consider possible strategies for addressing those issues, all of which will inform and strengthen our core work over the long term. We will present an update to the board about campaign activities and the plans for the September 2008 conventions in May 2008.

Closing Reflections

We entered 2007 with clarity about our vision, our message and our strategies for elevating the voices of working families. We identified that our challenges for 2007 were to cement the idea of Movement Building within communities and to engage low-wealth families in social change. In response, we developed and launched the Equal Voice campaign to engage families in a broad-based movement for change and raise the visibility of key issues, all while continuing our core grantmaking work.

This year will be momentous for Marguerite Casey Foundation and for low-wealth families across the United States. Each day, we will maximize the opportunity presented by the Equal Voice campaign to promote the leadership of families and to advance solutions that will lift families out of poverty. I look forward to working with you to carry forward the vital work of the Foundation and its grantees. Thank you for your ongoing leadership and insights that make our work so much stronger.

Questions

  1. What is your assessment of our performance during the past year?
  2. Do you see other challenges and tasks that we have overlooked?
  3. What would you like to see the Foundation accomplish in 2008?

Achieving and Sustaining Greatness

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