How can cross-sector collaboration help communities thrive?

Partnering on the big idea

To make a good idea great often requires the support and collaboration of multiple partners. But more often than not mobilizing that collaboration feels like herding cats. Fairmount is exceptionally skilled at convening many voices and constituencies – those that are aligned and those that aren’t – to help shape big ideas for maximum reach, programming, funding, and outcomes.

When the federal government created the Promise Zone concept, the city of Philadelphia sought to earn one of five such designations in the country. The idea is to concentrate substantive, highly targeted services and funding around educational supports and community-based services in a specific neighborhood with the aim of reducing inter-generational poverty. The City identified West Philadelphia for this opportunity, and Fairmount was engaged to craft the comprehensive strategic plan and develop the City’s proposal for the federal program. Central to our work was animating a host of organizations, including churches, civic groups, housing organizations, educational advocates, individuals, neighbors and others to identify needs, opportunities, aligned strengths, and roles. Fairmount facilitated multiple meetings and identified several early programmatic wins which helped align seemingly disparate constituents around a common cause. The outcomes? Fairmount penned what would become the Promise Zone’s top application in the nation, securing national priority in federal funding opportunities, and ultimately raising tens of millions of dollars of federal and philanthropic funds for education and job creation in West Philadelphia.

Drexel University set a high bar: to become the most civically engaged urban university in the nation. Fairmount has supported this vision by bringing our deep understanding of the funding marketplace, comprehensive planning and program design capabilities, an ability to connect many, diverse constituencies, and nationally competitive grant writing. Case in point: Fairmount built on our earlier success and strategy of the winning Promise Zone grant to again elicit a top score and earn a U.S. Department of Education $30 million Promise Neighborhood grant for West Philadelphia. This funding, in conjunction with millions of dollars more that Fairmount has helped secure from regional funders, is enabling Drexel to expand and sustain academically-driven child, youth, and family supports, including new early learning initiatives and the launch of a new public middle school – the first of its kind – serving West Powelton and Mantua.

The Casey Foundation issued an audacious challenge. Could the city of Philadelphia create a program – based on the mounting evidence of model practices – to make reading by 4th grade a reality for every Philadelphia student by the year 2020? Public Citizens for Children & Youth and the Urban Affairs Coalition took up the mantle to lead a collective impact process and tapped Fairmount to help manage the cross-sector collaboration it would require. We devised a community action plan, informed by national best practices, along with micro and macro strategies all linked to children’s literacy. The plan received key funding by The Barra Foundation. Fairmount also engaged and managed all of the necessary partners – including the School District of Philadelphia, educational advocates, private and parochial schools, charter schools, early childhood education providers, government agencies, universities, churches, healthcare organizations, and funders – to align what can be disparate agendas around the common literacy goal. With the input of these constituencies, Fairmount distilled an ambitious goal into core elements with year-by-year action steps and an organizational structure to build momentum, gain visibility and traction, and bring others to the table. Today, Read by 4th is an organization under the auspices of the Free Library of Philadelphia, with a dedicated executive director and more than 90 partners across the City, 20-plus funders, and the support of many related literacy initiatives.