History and Evolution of Robert Bowne Foundation Professional Development

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. 

Working part-time and without staff, Kangisser managed RBF’s professional development activities by making consulting grants to organizations with the needed expertise. For management expertise, the Foundation called upon the Nonprofit Connection and the Institute for Nonprofit Management at Columbia University. 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.

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.

The RBF offered its grantees a range of capacity-building supports, including one-on-one consultations, site visits, and workshops. The Foundation’s consultants 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.

With the arrival of Lena Townsend, Anne Lawrence, and Sara Hill, 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, and multi-session professional development series — each focused on a specific topic area, such as program evaluation.

Over time, RBF offerings — always voluntary – included:

  • The Youth Practitioners Institute
  • Creative Literacy in After-School Programs
  • Executive and Middle Management courses
  • Participatory Evaluation Institute
  • Fundraising Action Learning Series
  • Action Research Seminar for After School Providers
  • Julia Palmer Library Development and Literacy Support
  • Board Governance Initiative/Strengthening Boards Workshops

In 2006, the RBF added “Networking Meetings” for program staff, each focusing on a topic or area of interest identified by RBF grantees, such as Advocacy, Family Involvement, Evaluation, Media Literacy, and Common Core Standards. Most Networking Meetings featured the work of a grantee. This networking, offered to RBF grantees as well as to those who were not funded by RBF, linked youth practitioners from around the city and across programs to share tools, activities, experiences, innovations, and challenges and issues.


  • 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.

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