Equitable Communities was founded by John and David Kent in 2008, with the goal of promoting community development through collaborative investment. It is a 501(c)3 organization.
Q&A with Kimberly Bliss, Executive Director.
Q: What is your mission?
A: Equitable Communities collaboratively develops and helps fund community-owned pilot programs that promote the stewardship of social and economic justice. We use the success of these pilot programs to secure long-term funding and expand programming. The Financial Literacy Collaboration Center (FLCC) is currently in PS 15’s library (Red Hook, Brooklyn). Equitable Communities and PS 15 collaboratively develop and run programming from the FLCC, where financial learning for students and families empowers the entire community of Red Hook to overcome the opportunity gap with knowledge and resources to be their own agents of change. Equitable Communities brings knowledge, opportunity and most importantly respect to underserved communities. This is reflected in a local ownership model that gives written responsibility to communities for final decisions about project design, management, evaluation, and sustainability.
Q: What prompted the founding of the organization?
A: Equitable Communities began during the 2008 market crash. Our co-founder, John Kent, and Marquis Studios founder and Director, David
Marquis, had this crazy idea to mix art and financial literacy with the codeveloped Marketplace Fair (approx. 4 schools and 600 students/year). The Marketplace Fair reinforces its residency by practicing what they learned, and opens the door to all our other programs. The enthusiasm was breathless- communities were eager for MORE financial education. They were devastated during the housing meltdown and subsequent recession, and Hurricane Sandy. Most children lived without heat, water and electricity for months! Throughout it all, they ran a successful Marketplace Fair, asked for parent workshops, asked for financial in home learning, asked for more resources on financial inclusion over and over. Collaborative community-based programming requires an organization to coordinate partners, take the lead on initiatives and fundraising, and we were thrown into the fire with the success of PS 15’s Marketplace Fair. Our model is collaborative community-based programming, and the start of Equitable Communities is the basis for this model.
Q: How did you set goals for the organization?
A: As a very young start up (our 501(c)(3) application was just approved last week after over a year and a half!), our programming has dominated organizational goals. It was the success of our programming that necessitated us to become a “real” organization and become a 501(c)(3). Our programming success, however, has outstretched our ability to both fundraise and structure our organization—and these realities have become our new goals. We would like to balance the pressing reality of current necessities and strategic planning.
Q: How do you measure the impact of programs?
A: This is the first year of the FLCC pilot program at PS 15, and as a part of collaborative community-based model we have held workshops with parents on program development, have parents and families and children participate in programming with before and after surveys, roundtable conversations on what worked and what didn’t, and track the number of participants. It is our goal to use this information to create a larger measurement model for our programs. This is an area we have tried to seek help with, without success, and remains a very important goal for Equitable Communities.
Q: What have been the greatest challenges?
A: Fundraising, measurement, and organizational structure. We are three people who work together, and have the great fortune of successful programming. The greatest challenge is the reality that the success of the programming outstrips our capacity, as an organization, to deliver on the fundraising, measurement, and organizational capacity fronts.
Q: What fundraising strategies have you used?
A: We have been able to partner with larger organizations who have previous funding contacts and revenue streams. We have been reliant upon a few private donors.
Q: What fundraising strategy has worked the best?
A: Private donors, but it is not sustainable.
Q: Whatʼs the most critical lesson youʼve learned about nonprofit management?
A: Community is key. What we bring to the table, even as a small organization, is extremely valuable, we are reminded time and time again, from the generosity of partnerships (including YANA!) to the excitement we generate when talking about our mission and programs. The other side of community is others: other social entrepreneurs, other nonprofit organizations, other community leaders such as parents at PS 15. We have a community of social entrepreneurs that have kept us afloat and help us on that steep climb up the learning curve. We learn from others as much as on our own about nonprofit management.
Q: What changes do you anticipate in the nonprofit landscape over the next five to 10 years?
A: The collection and dissemination of data, and how that measures an organization’s impact and ability to fundraise. We anticipate the private sector to greatly expand its reach in non-profits, and how these partnerships work may be different than foundations/govt. Disempowerment across the globe will also compete for both nonprofit resources and funding. Public education in the US may undergo its most dramatic changes since its inception, the course of which is currently hotly contested with an unknown future.
Q: How can others help support your organizationʼs mission?
A: Mentor(s) and Partners! We need mentors in measurement, in organizational capacity (board building, staffing, budgeting, fundraising the list is long!). We need to expand our partnerships to meet the programming needs of our organization. The FLCC is a great model, and we would love to see it in other schools, homeless shelters, food banks, community organizations. Most recently, our programs have been used as a model for developing the successful towns and the cities of the future in United Nations conferences at both the UN and Windsor Castle. How do we pair these successes with our fundraising goals?
Recommended reading and links:
Savings By And For The Poor: A Research Review And Agenda by Dean Karlan, Aishwarya Lakshmi Ratan and Jonathan Zinman