In 1987, then Executive Director Dianne Kangisser proposed focusing the grantmaking of the Robert Bowne Foundation (RBF) on afterschool youth literacy. She was passionate about supporting the efforts of community-based programs -- aiming both to improve the quality of their youth literacy services as well as to strengthen the capacity of their home organizations. In an August 2011 interview, Kangisser explained:
I decided we had to change the approach to literacy in these programs. . . . We thought [programs] could integrate literacy into the other activities they were doing, whether it was arts, recreation, or advocacy. With some programs, we accomplished that. . . . Most ran better programs as a result of their work with us. Some moved minimally, some went beyond our wildest dream.
Working part-time and without staff, Kangisser managed RBF's professional development activities by making consulting grants to organizations with the needed expertise. For example, for management expertise, the Foundation called upon the Nonprofit Connection and the Institute for Nonprofit Management at Columbia University. And for literacy support, the RBF turned to such resources as the Literacy Assistance Center and the Institute for Literacy Studies at Lehman College.
Once Kangisser identified strong literacy experts -- many from the world of adult education, but also skilled community practitioners -- she invited them to work together as a "learning community." Dubbed the "Professional Development Group," members shared their experiences, discussed common readings, and honed their practical and theoretical expertise, all practices grounded in the premise of the National Writing Project that one can rely on practitioners to create theory.
The Professional Development Group shared its insights about effective professional development for OST programs in the 1995 publication Supporting Community Learning: A Staff Development and Resource Guide for After-School Youth-Education Programs
- A collaborative learning community supports participants in gaining knowledge and expertise;
- Effective professional development is experiential, linking theory to practice; and
- Professional development participants are more deeply invested and learn more when they investigate their own questions.
Early on, the RBF offered its grantees a range of capacity-building supports, including one-on-one consultations, site visits, and workshops. The Foundation’s consultants, quickly grasping that these were not enough, urged the RBF to create, support, and offer multi-session initiatives -- seminars and institutes -- to all grantees. Only such intensive efforts, they argued, could bolster the effectiveness of both grantee programs and grantee staff members.
Once begun, RBF initiatives have covered a range of capabilities, with some for individual practitioners or administrators, and others for staff teams. Moreover, RBF initiatives have aimed not only to enhance practice but also to create or reinvigorate such program features as on-site children's libraries, as well as energize organizational boards and support staff development in such areas as personal writing and program advocacy.
In 2002, RBF created and filled two full-time positions -- Lena Townsend as Executive Director and Anne Lawrence as Program Officer -- thereby ensuring consistent, ongoing support for grantees. With the arrival of Townsend and Lawrence, the RBF expanded its internal capacity to support grantee programs beyond the provision of grants. These included annual, one-on-one Support Visits with each grantee agency, addressing issues related to the RBF-funded program as well as to organizational capacity; and Foundation-created or - sponsored, multi-session professional development series -- each focused on a specific area, such as program evaluation, and open to interested grantees who sign up for entire series.
The RBF offered its grantees a range of support relating to work in a nonprofit organization as well as to literacy in OST programs. In addition, once on staff, Anne Lawrence, RBF Program Officer, participated in all PD sessions, either as provider/co-provider of the session or as host to the session’s consulting provider. In this way, participating program staff could develop direct working relationships with her – and, of course, she worked directly to support and strengthen grantee efforts.
Over time, RBF offerings -- always voluntary – included:
- The Youth Practitioners Institute at Lehman College;
- Creative Literacy in After-School Programs at the Literacy Assistance Center;
- Executive and Middle Management courses at the Institute for Nonprofit Management, Columbia University;
- Participatory Evaluation Institute, offered first by Anita Baker and then by Kim Sabo Flores, Ph.D;
- Fundraising Action Learning Series at Community Resource Exchange (CRE);
- Action Research Seminar for After School Providers led by Suzanne Marten of the Center for Educational Options (CEO);
- Julia Palmer Library Development and Literacy Support led jointly by Suzanne Marten and RBF Program Officer Anne Lawrence;
- Board Governance Initiative offered by VCG Governance Matters (Volunteer COnsulting Group); and
- Afterschool Matters Fellowships and follow-up Writers' Groups, initiated by the RBF and offered by Sara Hill and then, beginning in 2008, managed by the National Institute on Out-of-School Time (NIOST) and the National Writing Project.
In 2006, the RBF added "Networking Meetings" for program staff, each focusing on a topic or area of interest identified through Anne Lawrence's work with RBF grantees, such as Advocacy, Family Involvement, Evaluation, Media Literacy, and Common Core Standards. Most Networking Meetings featured the work of a grantee -- presented by an involved practitioner -- and included handouts for sharing. The "networking" aspect means to link youth practitioners from around the city and across programs to share tools, activities, experiences, innovations, and challenges and issues. This has meant, from the start, that all Networking sessions are open to any interested youth practitioner, whether working in an RBF grantee program or not.
The RBF also created and/or sponsored annual professional development series – each highlighting specific areas and consisting of multiple sessions – that were open to grantees who applied to attend.
After announcing its plan to close at the end of 2015, the RBF offered its grantees several multi-session professional development projects. These aimed to boost grantees’ ability to continue providing robust, Out-of-School Time youth literacy services well beyond the end of RBF funding. The offerings reflect the range of Foundation interests:
- Julia Palmer Library Development and Literacy Support Project (video) including a series of in-person and virtual seminars; individualized, on-site consultations; and a grant for purchasing library materials;
- Afterschool Matters Fellowships offered in New York City (video) through the Institute for Literacy Studies at Lehman College and New York City's Division of Youth and Community Development (DYCD), and nationally through the National Institute of Out-of-School Time (NIOST) and the National Writing Project;
- Strengthening Boards Workshops from Volunteer Consulting Group’s; and
- Evaluation Capacity Building Project (video) with the aim of serving two related but distinct purposes: supporting the evaluation needs of each participating agency; and developing a shared program evaluation instrument with the potential for wide adoption by youth development agencies.
- Video: RBF Program Officer Anne Lawrence and Suzanne Marten of the Center for Educational Options describe the history and approach of the Julia Palmer Library Development and Literacy Support Project at a year-end celebration on May 30, 2013.
- Video: Afterschool Matters Fellowship Philadelphia Facilitator Raquel Esteves Joyce describes the Fellowship experience.
- Video: Excerpt from the final session of an RBF Fundraising Action Learning Series facilitated by Randall Quan of the Community Resource Exchange on April 14, 2015.
- Video: RBF Program Officer, Anne Lawrence, describes the Evaluation Capacity Building Project at the Measuring What Matters Conference on September 30, 2015. The RBF and Youth, INC hosted the conference, which celebrated the work of their grantees to integrate evaluation into their organizations in partnership with Algorhythm, Inc.