Insights, News

A Milestone in Our Learning Journey

Aug 11, 2019


By: Margaret Hall, CEO and Co-Founder GreenLight Fund

Since its inception, the GreenLight Fund hasn’t shied away from deep learning and engagement with our grantees. We strive to confront challenges, faced by GreenLight and our portfolio organizations, honestly and candidly, ask questions, and listen intently so that we can all learn and strengthen our impact for low-income residents in our communities. It’s this approach that has powered our expansion to 8 communities and informed our investments in 27 portfolio organizations.

Earlier this year, the GreenLight Fund completed a major learning milestone: a first qualitative evaluation study of our own impact by a third-party evaluator, Learning for Action (LFA). In partnership with LFA and with the support of our portfolio organizations, we embarked on a 7-month journey to gain insights into our model and theory of change, specifically from the perspective of the portfolio organizations in which we invest. We set out to understand the impact the GreenLight Method is having on our grantees’ success in our cities — what is working and what we could do better.

By exploring the central hypotheses embedded within our Theory of Change, we learned where our approach is having an impact on our portfolio organizations and where we could adjust our approach to better support their ability to bring impact quickly and powerfully to our communities.

First and foremost, we learned that the local grounding and embeddedness we provide is seen as an advantage by portfolio organizations. Those interviewed confirmed that the introductions and connections to local leaders, peer organizations, and funders along with the credibility of being selected through GreenLight’s rigorous selection process give them the leverage to scale and quickly begin to make an impact locally. As LFA explained in their report, “GreenLight’s value proposition… is validated and appears to be unique in the philanthropic space.”

“GreenLight can change the speed of acquiring the network, the resources, and the knowledge we need to be effective. Resources are raised faster, and we’re less likely to make mistakes. GreenLight is like the catalytic agent, so the chemical reaction can happen faster.”
– National ED for Philadelphia Portfolio Organization

Second, we learned that the multi-year growth capital and intensive supports we provide help the portfolio organization reach impact in the new city more quickly. The unique combination of multi-year funding and the hands-on, on-the-ground “beyond the check” support around challenges and working towards solutions provides the needed runway to scale locally. Interviews with portfolio organizations found that these investments in their organization’s success allow for a more accelerated focus on program implementation than in cities where they have expanded without GreenLight Fund support. The study found, “Social innovations newly brought to a community with GreenLight partnership… get to quality implementation faster than would be the case without this partnership.”

“No doubt [GreenLight] helped us grow more quickly. […] If you look at the Boston numbers after those two [other sites where we launched without GreenLight], [Boston] grew way faster. […] In Boston we had a surplus the years I was there, which meant we could think about growth constantly. Our other new sites have not had that foothold.”
-Local ED for Boston Portfolio Organization

We are so pleased and encouraged to receive this third-party validation of our approach and model. We are also invigorated to take the learnings from this evaluation to further strengthen our model. For example, the evaluation identified an opportunity to bolster supports to help our organizations plan for long-term sustainability during the last year of GreenLight funding. In addition, to better measure GreenLight’s impact through a quantitative lens and to have consistent and complete data on the success and challenges of our portfolio organizations real time, the study suggests implementation of a more robust performance management system, which we are now building.

We select organizations that have measurable results and have built data and feedback systems to understand and drive performance, organizations that are committed to learning and improving. GreenLight’s impact is based on bringing these results to our communities as quickly and sustainably as possible. We want to know if we are in fact doing that and this study has given us the opportunity to substantiate that we are, and to reflect, learn and improve going forward.

This commitment to learning and improving through data and feedback is core to GreenLight. We deeply believe this is how we and our portfolio organizations will ensure better and better results for our communities’ low-income residents. We mark this important milestone in our own performance journey and commit to continuing the journey ourselves and in partnership with our portfolio organizations.

“It’s rare that [a funder] does this deep inquiry around the needs of the local community and then finds organizations that fit that need. That’s a unique and special part of the GreenLight process. [Because of that] we can…spend most of our time proving the value of our services rather than persuading people that there is a need.”
– National ED for Bay Area Portfolio Organization