Something pretty interesting is happening in Austin around growth, social entrepreneurship and investment capital. The KDK Harman Foundation, launched in 2004 by Janet Harman with a $26 million endowment, is spearheading an effort to get the social sector here talking about and thinking about how to grow and replicate successful nonprofit models. The mission of the KDK Harman Foundation is two-fold: “To break the cycle of poverty through education while promoting a culture of giving excellence.” While the first part of the mission is admirable and necessary, it’s the second part that really excites me. In 2008, when the foundation was only 4 years old, they decided to modify their mission to include the giving excellence piece because, per their website:
Janet [had a] desire to assist Central Texas in creating a culture of giving excellence. The Foundation is actively involved in the community through its role as a host and convener of community stakeholders interested in education and philanthropy. The Foundation also offers opportunities to share information about grantmaking with newly formed foundations as part of its Foundation 101 trainings. KDK-Harman Foundation is committed to funding and celebrating excellence; excellence in programming, excellence in nonprofit management, and excellence in grantmaking.
To that end, the KDK Harman Foundation launched what they call the “Growth Learning Collaborative” last year. The Growth Learning Collaborative is a social innovation project that brings together various Austin-based nonprofit Executive Directors to discuss and analyze various growth models. The group wanted to talk with and learn from experts and peers about options for growing organizations. These nonprofits are social entrepreneurs with great organizations that want to figure out how to scale. I presented to the group in December about the process an organization that is thinking about growth should go through.
One member of the Collaborative is well on their way towards scale. Heart House is a daily afterschool program for school-age children in neighborhoods known for high crime and high unemployment in Austin and Dallas. The program has achieved some pretty impressive results for these kids, including:
- 90% of Heart House children improved their reading level by at least one level.
- Teachers report that 96% of Heart House children have improved their math skills.
- Teachers believe 85% of Heart House children have shown an improvement in behavior with adults and other children at school.
- 0% of Heart House children were victims of violent crime or engaged in juvenile delinquency.
Heart House has plans to grow to 25 sites throughout Texas. They have a great growth plan, and I’m helping them refine it and create an investor pitch for the growth capital they will need to make it a reality. The founder of Heart House, Anna Land, helped KDK Harman launch the Growth Learning Collaborative because she wanted to learn with others how best to replicate, as she explains:
The idea of the Growth Learning Collaborative has been more than simply expanding our organizations. I wanted us to meet to discuss and plan implementation of best-practice techniques to help grow and — more fundamentally — replicate our organizations. In our case, children across Texas need a resource like Heart House. To that end, we focus on how we can naturally nurture and maintain our sense of organizational culture, our enactment of our missions and values, through cycles of leadership and volunteers across Heart House hubs.
These are relatively new ideas for Austin and Central Texas. Austin doesn’t tend to grow homegrown nonprofit organizations state- or nation-wide. By bringing local nonprofits with a vision for growth together and giving them the space and expertise to envision growth and make it a reality, KDK Harman is providing an invaluable service. It will be exciting to watch how this momentum grows and whether other local foundations and philanthropists follow their lead. I’d like to see more philanthropists both here and across the country take the lead in encouraging scale, best practices, innovative use of funds and so on. They are a key player in the movement for social innovation, and they have the resources to make a real difference in the success of the movement.