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Starting a Regional Workforce Funders Collaborative

Step 1: Conducting the Marketing Feasibility Study
Step 2: Start-Up
Step 3: Getting Funders to the Table
Step 4: Identifying and Connecting to Partners
Step 5:  Developing Strategies for Change
Step 6:  Setting Goals
Step 7:  Governance
Step 8: Administration 

Useful Links

Step 1: Conducting the Marketing and Feasibility Assessment 

A few funders can lead the effort to develop a RWFC.  Their first step is to form a Launch Committee.  To market the collaborative, the committee sponsors one or more briefings  for funders who want to learn about it.  Contacts by funders on the Launch Committee, and personal contacts if possible, make it most likely that attendance at the briefings will be high.  Anticipate that funders who attend the briefing will be there to learn.  Topics that funders care about may includethe opportunity the RWFCs provide for foundations to more effectively fulfill their missions, use their resources more strategically, leverage public funds, and learn from each other. 

The next step is for Launch Committee members to follow up with briefing attendees.  Follow up conversations provide the opportunity to respond to concerns and answer additional questions, talk about ways in which the RWFC can achieve the funder's mission, explain that funders can participate either by pooling funding or aligning it, and identify both the funder's level of interest. 

As a next step, the Launch Committee as a whole assesses the feasibility of starting a RWFC based on the information gathered by committee members of interested funders sponsors and helps organize one or more funder briefings and meet with potential funders to explain the RWFC model. A significant aspect of these discussions is highlighting the opportunity the RWFCs provide for foundations to more effectively fulfill their missions, use their resources more strategically, leverage public funds, and learn from each other. The Launch Committee seeks initial commitments to the collaborative as a means of encouraging other funders to join. The responsiveness by potential partners will determine whether to establish a RWFC.

Step 2: Start-Up

The Launch Committee seeks analyses of key regional industries to determine priorities for investment that fit funders’ interests.  The analyses make it possible for investors in the Workforce Funder Collaborative to make funding decisions with the knowledge of what is currently being done in each sector and what is needed to achieve the greatest impact.
The Launch Committee also designs, develops, and promotes the collaborative investment pool and the process for funders to provide aligned funding. It facilitates participation by local and national foundations, local government, and local employers. It recommends metrics to assure funders that investment will be focused strategically, produce significant impact, and link training to employment and increases in family economic security.

Step 3: Getting Funders to the Table

One of the greatest challenges in getting an initiative of this sort underway is to get the right people and organizations to the table.  These people and organizations should share a common interest in employment and the advancement of low-income people, as well as the growth of key regional industries.  Getting the right team together at the outset will help you establish a strong and functional collaborative well into the future.  This team, though, must be a natural fit and reflect the broad goals that are needed for your region.

The following are some examples of key partners that may be approached:

  • Community and regional foundations and their partners
  • Local workforce investment boards
  • Corporations with a track-record of community giving

Step 4: Identifying and Connecting to Partners

While some successful workforce funder collaboratives have focused their partnerships on funders, others have sought working partnerships with a wider range of workforce development agencies and organizations.  In addition to community and regional foundations and their partners and workforce investment boards, the following are some examples of key partners that may be approached:

  • Community colleges and/or adult schools
  • Strong community based organizations
  • Non-profit training providers

Beyond these sorts of organizations, though, it is important to have representatives who have defined strengths that will boost the ability and reach of your collaborative.  Here are some guiding questions that may help you determine which organizations, agencies, or individuals you should reach out to:

  • Do they have a proven fundraising track-record?
  • Do they have strong program administration and delivery abilities?
  • Do they have the capacity to get the attention of media and elected officials to advance the goals of your initiative?
  • Do they have a strong connection to workforce and economic development agencies?
  • Are they, or do they have strong connections to, industry leaders?
  • Are they, or do they have strong connections to, key community based organizations?

Step 5:  Developing Strategies for Change

Regional funder collaboratives should develop a multi-year strategy that will allow their funding to have maximum impact for low-income workers.  When strategizing, the collaborative partners should identify the assets in their region that can be organized into a cohesive system that will advance the position of low-wage workers while simultaneously meet the needs of key industries or challenges that may hinder this process.

The following are questions that can focus your discussion when developing goals for the collaborative and elicit the baseline information needed to create an effective long-term workforce strategy.

  • What are the pressing workforce problems in your region?
  • How are the specificities of the problems determined?
  • What are the results sought by your collaborative’s efforts?
  • What are the various factors that could positively or negatively influence your work and how can these factors be incorporated into your planning?

By using these questions as a planning guide, you will be better able to identify the assets and barriers within your region, determine who additional key partners may be, and begin to strategize ways in which partners’ pooled resources and leadership position can help to advance needed systems change through the support of sector initiatives, by filling the gaps, and overcoming barriers.  

Step 6:  Setting Goals

Establishing the goals of your collaborative is one of the most critical processes to undertake.  The goals will help determine the structure of the collaborative, the roles and responsibilities of funders, the strategies that the collaborative will undertake, and the types of programs and projects that will be best suited for collaborative support.  Additionally, the goals will help your collaborative begin to map out the range of funding you will be able to offer.

When setting goals for the collaborative, consideration must be given to the missions of participating funders and the conclusions of labor market analysis. By doing so, collaboratives focus on what is most important to do to move low-wage workers up to good jobs. There are a number of external factors that should be brought into the discussion.  Regional economic realities, population trends, and political forces are central in determining the direction and effectiveness of your collaborative goals.   As the goal setting process moves forward, the collaborative will decide:

  • The target population(s)
  • The target industry sector(s)
  • High impact strategies

(For more tips on the research process in determining target populations and industries, please click here.)

As you develop the goals of your collaborative, keep in mind the responsibilities involved with each one.  It is critical to determine how these goals are to be reached and who will be responsible for them.  Teams of collaborative members can be set up early in this stage to begin to work on processes that will advance the agreed upon goals.

The following are some standard examples of collaborative objectives:

  • Creating economic security for your region’s low-income families
  • Creating partnerships with your region’s employers and getting a firm understanding of their needs in terms of skills required, challenges to be met, and training systems to be put into place
  • Encouraging increased collaboration between local WIBs, community colleges, unions, employer associations, and any other key stakeholders. 

Step 7:  Governance

The Launch Committee organizes the formation of a governing committee. Typically, the governing committee includes representatives of each contributing funding organization. This structure ensures that the member investors in the Collaborative are the decision makers; however, the governance structure may include others as well. The governing committee develops and participates in the grant making process to determine the uses of investments, and to ensure that giving matches the requirements, charter, priorities, and funding restrictions of each funding source. Typically the governing committee seeks the guidance and collaboration of local WIBs, public officials, labor unions, community colleges, and employer associations as well as employers from the targeted industry sectors, whose advice and support will help inform grant making.  The governance structure needs to be designed so that the Workforce Collaborative operates with the speed and flexibility needed by the target industries, and has the oversight, accountability mechanism and metrics, and systems support needed to integrate grant making into the workforce and economic development structures of local WIBs, the cities, and the State.

Step 8: Administration

The Launch Committee typically funds one or more experienced consultants or dedicated staff persons to manage the funder collaborative, and to support fund development and program management.  In its early formation, the Bay Area Workforce Funders Collaborative was staffed by the National Network of Sector Partners, until that role was transferred to the San Francisco Foundation, a local community foundation.  The San Diego Workforce Funders Collaborative relies on staff from the local workforce investment board and the West Foundation.  And SkillsWorks in Boston is staffed by Jobs for the Future.  These are just a few examples that highlight the varying ways in which regional funder collaboratives can rely upon the staff of other organizations and agencies to advance their work.
 The governance committee typically forms an Operations Team that works with the consultant(s) or staff to conduct the day-to-day activities, such as:

  • Developing a request for proposal process and provide initial evaluation of the proposals;
  • Managing the grant portfolio, carry out financial recordkeeping and reporting;
  • Supporting and monitoring grantees;
  • Providing sector research work to identify strategic opportunities in the targeted sectors;
  • Proposing a marketing strategy for the Collaborative for both potential grantees and new investors;
  • Helping to plan and coordinate meetings of the Collaborative and its committee structure;
  • Working closely with and convene meetings with the region’s WIBs, employers, unions, colleges, local governments, and others;
  • Supporting other activities as needed.

Useful Links

For some useful examples and information, please read the National Fund's "Supporting Regional Funding Collaboratives for Workforce Development in Rural Areas" and "Request for Proposals; Support for Regional Funding Collaboratives for Workforce Development."