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Our New Strategic Framework

Expanding Our Impact

In 2022, ECMC Foundation leadership engaged in a strategic planning process to support the Foundation’s continued growth in size and impact on systemic change to improve outcomes for underserved populations in postsecondary education. The Board of Directors and Foundation leadership agreed at the outset that the Foundation’s vision and mission would not change substantially. Instead, we have incorporated what we have learned over the past several years of grantmaking into our new strategic framework and have created a structure that allows us to improve equitable outcomes through a spectrum of funding tools, including strategic grantmaking and program-related investments. We are also committed to providing an open application process and maintaining our ability to be flexible and adapt our grantmaking and investing in new initiatives as the philanthropic and higher education landscapes evolve.

Implementation of the new strategic framework will be rolled out in the next several months and finalized by mid-2023. We will continue to accept and review letters of inquiry on a rolling basis as we transition our College Success and Career Readiness strategies into our new strategic framework.

Staying True to Our Mission

 “To improve higher education for career success among underserved populations through evidence-based innovation.”

The Foundation is focused on improving higher education so that it is equitable and student-centered, with a lens toward career success. The scope of higher education includes credit-bearing career and technical education (CTE), and other two- and four-year postsecondary credentials. The Foundation focuses particularly on improving outcomes for underserved populations and is committed to evaluation and learning from our grantmaking and field expertise to drive evidence-based innovation in higher education.

Strengthening Our Strategic Priorities

The Foundation aims to drive systemic change, getting at the root causes of complex challenges in higher education, not just the symptoms. This may mean tackling the biases, institutional, system-level or state or federal policies, resource allocation and flows, and financial and life circumstances that create barriers to success for underserved learners.

Our new criteria for reviewing grants and investments are represented by the illustration below. A proposed project must meet our mission as well as one or more of our strategic priorities. A substantial part of our grantmaking and investing will fall within one of our initiatives, which are described in further detail below.

Our strategic priorities represent a three-pronged approach to creating systemic change in higher education that includes creating immediate change by removing obstacles that stand in the way of learner success right now; equipping institutions and organizations to better serve learners; and evolving the postsecondary ecosystem over time to become more adaptive, resilient, and capable of delivering more equitable outcomes.

Removing barriers to postsecondary completion
We bolster programs that directly support learner success by meeting the unique needs, goals and aspirations of today’s diverse learner populations.

Building the capacity of organizations, systems and institutions
We strengthen the capacity of higher education institutions, systems, and other support and service organizations to improve outcomes for today’s learners and evolve to meet the changing needs of learners.

Transforming the postsecondary ecosystem
We support large-scale, cross-sector collaborations and innovations that have the potential to transform the postsecondary ecosystem in service of more equitable outcomes for the learners of today and tomorrow.

 

Growing Our Initiatives

To drive systemic change, we will focus a substantial portion of our strategic grantmaking and program-related investments on initiatives. As the Foundation evolves in its learning, existing initiatives will grow and new initiatives will be developed.

An initiative represents the Foundation’s commitment to working toward systemic change in or through an area of the postsecondary ecosystem. All grantmaking and investing related to an initiative will be strategically connected to the initiative. We will announce more information about our initiatives in the coming months. Established initiatives include:

Basic Needs Initiative

CTE Leadership Collaborative Initiative

Men of Color Initiative

Single Mother Student Success Initiative

Transfer and Credit Mobility Initiative

Remaining Strategically Responsive 

In addition to our initiatives, we will continue to make grants and investments through our open letter of inquiry process. As we pursue systemic change in the postsecondary ecosystem, we remain committed to funding evidence-based innovation with the flexibility to adapt as the higher education landscape evolves. We reserve funding for projects that do not fit within one of our established initiatives but are connected to one or more of our strategic priorities.

Deepening Our Commitment to Learning and Evaluation

As part of our commitment to embodying a culture of humility and responsiveness, learning and evaluation will evolve and increase its role significantly through our new strategic framework. Learning and evaluation will become a driving influence of initiative strategies to ensure that the work within each initiative is moving toward the initiative goals, advancing a learning agenda and is aligning to one or more strategic priorities.
 
In recent years, ECMC Foundation has strengthened attention to learning and evaluation and will develop a robust approach befitting the growth of the Foundation’s grantmaking and our strategic focus on systemic change. This approach will be ongoing and iterative, incorporating data from applications, reports and conversations with grantees to make evidenced-based decisions. Centered in equity and focused on systemic change, learning and evaluation will be integrated into the entire strategy development and will work in close partnership with the grantmaking and investing teams. Grantees will be essential partners in all stages of the Foundation’s learning and evaluation processes.
 
The illustration below demonstrates three different stages of grants and investments that we support. This structure will be used to understand the initiative landscape and design evaluation and learning goals.

Maintaining Our Core Values

All of the Foundation’s grants, investments and activities will continue to be guided by our mission to improve higher education for career success among underserved populations through evidence-based innovation. We will sharpen our strategic focus on the postsecondary ecosystem and continue leadership in career and technical education while advancing the integrated goals of college success and career advancement.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can my organization apply for funding during the transition to the new strategic framework?
We will continue to accept and review letters of inquiry on a rolling basis as we transition away from our College Success and Career Readiness strategies and implement our new strategic framework. All new requests for funding will be required to meet one or more of the strategic priorities under the strategic framework.

To apply for funding, visit How to Apply to learn more about the Foundation’s grantmaking and investing processes. There is no deadline to submit a concept for consideration; ECMC Foundation accepts and reviews letter of inquiry submissions on a rolling basis.

Why did the Foundation create a new strategic framework?
As we continue to expand our impact on postsecondary education and career success, Foundation leadership launched a strategic planning process in early 2022 to establish a strong foundation for our next chapter. Instead of dividing our work into two focus areas: Career Readiness and College Success, our new strategic framework accounts for the significant overlap between the two.

How does ECMC Foundation define the postsecondary ecosystem?
The postsecondary ecosystem includes learners, educators, employers, higher education institutions and systems, workforce education providers and agencies, and nongovernmental organizations and intermediaries that connect with or support learners across their postsecondary experiences. It includes the landscape of funding for postsecondary education from public and private sources, and the policies and policymakers that focus on education and workforce training pursued after high school. The ecosystem also includes the interactions between these groups and the ways that they communicate, for example the skills that learners develop in postsecondary education, and the evidence and portability of their learning. For the purposes of the Foundation’s strategic focus and grantmaking, the boundaries of the ecosystem must remain focused on postsecondary education and workforce readiness. At the same time, we recognize that the postsecondary ecosystem exists within a broader continuum that is shaped by K-12 transitions into higher education and workforce training, as well as by labor-market outcomes and societal impacts related to postsecondary attainment.

How does the Foundation define systemic change?
A systemic change approach aims to shift the conditions that hold a problem in place, rather than merely alleviate the symptoms of the problem. Big, complex challenges, like those that the Foundation intends to tackle in higher education, are resolved through long-term, collaborative, intentional, multi-level, multi-channel change work. To ensure that grants and program-related investments advance the systemic change goals of the Foundation, we will consider the extent to which grant or investment opportunities incorporate key levers for systemic change. As the Foundation continues to grow a robust learning and evaluation function, its understanding of the levers for change will also evolve. Levers currently include but are not necessarily limited to: shifting and realigning incentives and resources, building new relationships through partnerships and collaborations, supporting courageous change leadership, contributing to the knowledge of the field, changing key practices in scalable ways, informing policy, contributing to and shaping a public discourse that centers the needs and experiences of today’s learners, and strengthening transparency and accountability around institutional impacts on learners and their outcomes.

What does the new focus on initiatives mean?
A number of the Foundation’s existing and emerging bodies of work will be deepened and expanded as initiatives, and as the Foundation evolves in its learning, new initiatives will be identified. While transitioning to this level of focused grantmaking will take time, a substantial part of our grantmaking will be directed into initiatives, with the remainder of the grantmaking budget reserved for responsive grantmaking and exploratory groundwork for potential initiatives. Initiatives will generally be established for a minimum of three years, with a commitment of significant funding for that period.

What if I am a current grantee and have questions about my grant?
Grantees should contact their current program officer with questions.

If I am a current grantee, will my program officer change?
Unless you receive a direct communication from ECMC Foundation, your program officer will stay the same.

What if my project is no longer eligible for funding under the new strategic framework?
All commitments will carry through per current grant agreements. Your program officer will notify you if your project is not eligible for a new grant. While most of the Foundation’s active grants fall well within the scope of our new strategic framework, renewed funding is not guaranteed.

Can I meet with someone to learn more about the new strategic framework?
The Foundation will host a webinar about the new strategic framework on December 14, 2022. More information about this event is forthcoming. Register here.

How can I apply if I have a project which fits in a current initiative?
If you have a proposed project which fits in a current initiative, please note the alignment in your letter of inquiry. We will direct your submission to the appropriate staff member(s) for review, which can take up to six weeks. You may be contacted if a member of our team wants to learn more about your proposed program, although this does not guarantee an invitation to submit a full proposal.

Can I still apply for funding if I have a concept which doesn’t fit under a current or future initiative?
We will continue to make strategically responsive grants through our open letter of inquiry (LOI) process. You can submit an LOI here.

My questions about the strategic framework are not answered in this FAQ. To whom should I direct my questions?
We’re in the process of collecting questions and comments to prepare for our town hall on December 14, 2022. Please send your questions to ECMC Foundation Communications Director Joanna Rosenthal at jrosenthal@ecmc.org.