Insights, News

How Do We Decide? An Inside Look at GreenLight’s Selection

Apr 23, 2019



By: Emma Drongowski, Program Associate, GreenLight Cincinnati

GreenLight Fund is dedicated to identifying unmet local needs, finding and importing the most promising social innovations to meet those needs, and mobilizing the community to ensure early impact and long-term success. You can learn more about how we selected the most pressing issue areas in Cincinnati, and how we identified potential organizations in my previous blog posts. We are picking back up at what turned out to be my favorite stage of the process, where we narrow down our pipeline to a few organizations with the potential to be stellar fits for our community, and dive deep into their organizations to ultimately select one to invest in and bring home to Cincinnati.

When evaluating organizations, we start with the most basic assessment—do they have a proven model that will get results for an urgent, unmet need in our community? And while this question certainly is the most important and fundamental, a “yes” still doesn’t mean they are the right organization for GreenLight to invest in. By conducting deep due diligence on organizations, we look underneath the hood of a program to understand which one is the right choice at the right time for Cincinnati.

During every selection cycle we go through, we look into an organization’s financials, to ensure they are sound and have a viable plan for long-term sustainability in our city. We take a deep dive into a program’s evaluations to ensure they are getting outstanding results, and are accurately measuring the impact they claim to have. And then, after we feel confident in all of those factors, we hop on a plane to see them for ourselves. We traveled nearly 10,000 miles to visit the most promising organizations, talk with their leadership, staff members, clients, board members, and community partners. We met with folks who have experienced their programs who shared how it impacted their lives. We spoke with the founders and leaders of the organizations about their vision and how passionate they are for the work they do. We witnessed their program in action and envisioned what it could look like in Cincinnati. We were blown away by the commitment to excellence, the passion and heart for the work, the innovation and outside of the box thinking, and ultimately the impact these organizations are having.

At this point in the process, we are only meeting with stellar organizations with excellent models—all of whom would be a welcome and needed addition to Cincinnati. However, we can only make one investment, and there are so many factors that make a partnership work. Often organizations need to partner with large public systems like school districts or Jobs and Family Services in order to be successful, which means we have to figure out if these systems have the ability, budget, and desire to take on a big new partnership. When a new need emerges in Cincinnati, our philanthropic and generous community kick into action, so we also consider if other groups have already identified this challenge and are working to solve it. The organizations we’ve met with have identified a “secret sauce” that works well, but we must also examine if the environment and opportunity make it a good fit for Cincinnati.  For some of these factors, the answer was “yes,” and some was “no,” and some was just “not this year, but at some point in the future, maybe yes.” We took our time with this process, because it is too important to rush. We took the entire summer and most of the fall of 2018 to have these conversations with community partners in order to make a decision that was right for Cincinnati.

Throughout our visits, I was blown away by these incredible organizations and one thing in particular struck me—how they are able to identify and tailor a very specific program to fit a hugely complicated need. American cities face challenges upon challenges, many of which are very similar across geographies and have been caused by centuries of racial oppression, economic inequity, and gender discrimination. At the same time, cities face localized and specific challenges, with local contexts playing a huge role in how the problems present themselves. These organizations are able to address the common problem at the root, but adapt their model to work for families regardless of their geography. Problems facing Cincinnati are great, and frankly sometimes seem insurmountable, but innovative and impactful solutions exist—they just aren’t yet reaching all the people who need them. The potential for change is so great, and it is what keeps me energized and dedicated in the work that we do.

While I didn’t mention the specific organizations that we visited here, know that we ultimately selected one of them, and let me tell you…it’s a game changer. It uses data, innovative information systems, a trauma-informed approach, and will help Cincinnatians who really need it. We can’t wait to tell you who they are and launch this organization in the coming months…stay tuned!