Up at Night

Author: Heather Reynolds, LEO Managing Director

In this issue of Illuminate, we are diving into the idea of smart philanthropy. And for me, seeing philanthropists at the front of the evidence-building movement is one of the most inspirational pieces of my work. Here is how I have seen this in action.

How about our city?

A few years ago, LEO supporters Ed and Lori Fisher approached me with a question: Could LEO come to Atlanta? It was an intriguing idea. While we build evidence throughout the country, the idea of going to a specific community seemed to have merit. What if we found amazing partners in a concentrated geographical area? Would that lead to the community demanding evidence on behalf of those struggling in poverty? In partnership with the Fishers, we dove in and launched our first geographically focused cohort of projects in the great city of Atlanta. We found dedicated partners with wonderfully innovative services. Together, we designed the research studies that are currently underway.

With the Atlanta projects full steam ahead, we next heard from Quentin Orem, Executive Director of the Richard and Maude Ferry Foundation. Quentin felt burdened by the level of homelessness in Seattle, Washington—his own backyard in Seattle. He wondered if a partnership with LEO could reduce homelessness in Seattle. So we got to work planning and launching our second geographical cohort of partners in the Seattle area. Quentin’s vision was similar to Ed and Lori’s: We have to do better, and evidence should lead the way. With a strong portfolio of existing projects with our partners at King County, we leaned in and said, “let’s go!” After completing the cohort process with us in late 2022, four organizations avidly addressing homelessness with innovative services are launching their research studies with us this spring.

And then this past June I was in Fort Worth catching up with an old friend, John Robinson, head of the Amon G. Carter Foundation. I was updating John on the latest and greatest at LEO and mentioned what we were doing in Atlanta and Seattle. John quickly asked, “And how about Fort Worth?” So our LEO team spent this past summer thinking through and planning what a new geographically focused effort could achieve in North Texas. In Spring of 2024 we will launch our North Texas cohort. Vetting efforts to find great partnerships in the Dallas-Fort Worth area are underway!

Evidence first

Recently, our board chair Chris Wilson called with an idea. His foundation was in partnership with the Center for the Rights of Abused Children and he was inspired by the advocacy work they were doing with children involved in the foster care system. He shared an idea they had to advocate for the allocation of policy dollars towards financial accounts for children in foster care. This would give them important resources as they transitioned from the foster care system into adulthood. Chris’s idea was to first test this idea with private philanthropic dollars, build evidence about its impact, and then scale it through policy support. LEO is now working with this organization to design a research study to understand the outcomes of children who receive these services—evidence-building that will eventually lead to much needed impact!

Collective work

Last summer, our friends at Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities (FADICA) called about an effort they had underway. Their work stemmed from a request from Pope Francis (yes, you read that right!) for FADICA to “discern the ever-changing needs of the Catholic community and broader society…[and] in a particular way to be attentive to the needs of the poor, especially those who live on the peripheries of society and are often unseen and forgotten.” Inspired by this request, FADICA started doing the hard work of understanding the issue of homelessness, so they could answer this question: What is our unique work to do, as a Catholic inspired philanthropy network, in this moment, to address homelessness in the United States? We partnered with the FADICA team to conduct interviews with philanthropists, FADICA members, service providers, and others in this space. We dug deep into the evidence to better understand what we know about effective solutions to homelessness, and what questions still remain. Last month we spent time with FADICA members in San Diego (it’s always nice to get out of South Bend in February!), leading them through a discernment process on the theme they want to collectively focus on to reduce homelessness in the country. We were inspired by their shared commitment to understand what works and to put evidence to use for the betterment of our brothers and sisters struggling in poverty.

I often think about the verse from the Bible that says, “to whom much is given, much is required.” How very true this is! And to have a front row seat to the work of philanthropists sharing so generously with others, concerned about real impact for those struggling in poverty—well, that’s quite a gift in and of itself!

Read the rest of this issue of Illuminate here!