Commentary: A National Model for Giving, Right Here in Alexandria

Commentary: A National Model for Giving, Right Here in Alexandria

I recently celebrated my 10-year anniversary at ACT for Alexandria and it is hard to believe I’ve been here for a decade. It’s been exciting to see the growth of the organization and I always say I love my job because I get to work with our amazing nonprofits, donors, and community members. Since our inception in 2004, ACT has served as a community leader convening around challenging issues, encouraging collaboration among key stakeholders, strengthening the nonprofit sector, and connecting individuals with causes they care about. Most people know us as the Alexandria’s community foundation, but did you know that ACT has been highlighted and sought-out as a best practice leader in philanthropy? Here are just a few of the areas where ACT has shared our experience.

Early Care and Education

In partnership with the City of Alexandria’s Children Youth Master Plan, ACT is convening key stakeholders around the creation of a coordinated and aligned system of early care and education in the city to ensure every child in Alexandria has a strong start in life and in school. Our cross-sector systems building work has been highlighted and shared around the country in FSG’s Improving the Odd: Seven Principles for Investing in Early Care and Education Guide and the American Public Human Services Association Policy & Practice Magazine – Public-Private Partnerships. ACT is also sending members of the Early Care & Education Work Group to the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) Professional Learning Institute Conference to present a session on our experience with professional learning communities.

Capacity Building

In addition to our convening role, ACT is committed to strengthening the nonprofit sector through building the capacity of our local nonprofits, making sure they have a solid foundation in place so they can better carry out their mission. We do this through providing capacity building grants (investing more than $700,000 in funding nonprofit organization since 2005), hosting the IMPACT Forum (convening 200-plus nonprofit, board, business, city and community leaders annually to discuss innovations in philanthropy), and educating the nonprofits about best practices like The Performance Imperative, a framework for high-performing organizations. I, along with founding board member, Lori Morris, participated in developing the Performance Imperative Organizational Self-Assessment (PIOSA), a tool used around the country by foundations and organizations to assess their organizational learning and improvement. This framework helps to inform our grantmaking and our conversations with donors about investing in effective organizations.

Spring2ACTion - $6.5M-plus for Alexandria

ACT created Spring2ACTion, Alexandria’s Giving Day, in 2011 after hearing about Give to the Max Day, an online giving day for the state of Minnesota that raised $10M in 24 hours. Our board chair Lauren Stack suggested we do something similar for Alexandria. Seven years ago, many of our nonprofits were not yet versed in online fundraising and some didn’t even have web sites or a way to accept online donations. As the host of Spring2ACTion, we train nonprofits on how to use the online platform, as well as best practices in fundraising and specifically crowd funding and peer-to-peer fundraising, techniques that can be integrated all-year round. Our first year, Spring2ACTion raised $104,156 for 47 nonprofits and this year, together we raised $1,592,459 for 158 nonprofits. Little did we know that this online giving event would bring nearly $6.5M to Alexandria nonprofits over the past seven years.

Spring2ACTion is the only city-wide giving day in our region and our small city often raises more that entire state-wide giving days. Our innovative work in this area has been chronicled in Razoo’s Giving Day Event Playbook and the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth. I have also had the privilege of participating on several panel discussions including the Urban Institute’s Policy Debate – Can Giving Days Unlock America’s Giving Potential? and the Bridge Conference’s Evolving Your Crowdfunding Strategy to Grow Your Best Assets to share stories about Spring2ACTion, Alexandria’s nonprofits and our generous community.

As you can see, there is a lot going on at ACT and in our city. As a learning organization, we are delighted to be able to share our experience with others around the country and highlight our community any chance we can. Thank you to our nonprofits, donors and fellow Alexandrians for allowing us the opportunity to be your community foundation!