Insights, News

Inside GreenLight’s Process: Building a Pipeline

Jun 21, 2018



By: Emma Drongowski, Program Associate, GreenLight Cincinnati

This blog post is the second in a series going “behind the scenes” of GreenLight’s Annual Selection Cycle. Click here if you missed the first one!

In every selection cycle, we look for where there is the biggest need and the most opportunity to invest in our community. There are always many needs and multiple opportunities, and we do months and months of work to determine which organization will have the biggest impact and be the right fit for Cincinnati. I wrote about the first phase of our selection cycle here, where we ultimately selected early childhood summer reading loss, college access and persistence, youth aging out of foster care, and violence prevention as the four issue areas we would pursue this year.

By using the GreenLight method, my next steps were clear: build a pipeline of organizations that have innovative approaches to these problems and a demonstrated record of impact. Go. I first looked to the organizations that GreenLight Fund has already invested in—these are organizations that we already know well, particularly their ability to impact outcomes. I looked to other funders, to local partners, my network, GreenLight’s networks, and to the internet to assemble an initial pipeline. Ultimately, I built a list of 51 organizations that work in the four priority areas where there is a clear need for further support and an opportunity to bring a new program to our city.

These organizations are simply amazing. They are creative and innovative, they aim to fundamentally transform broken systems, they are able to reach the hardest to serve populations, they can reverse negative outcomes in a neighborhood, they are made up of passionate, dedicated, entrepreneurial people who are working to make their community better for their neighbors. And we can only choose ONE of them.

We had dozens of calls to first introduce ourselves and our goals, but then longer, more in depth conversations with each organization’s leadership teams to get a clear understanding of their program models, evaluations and expansion plans.  Many of our Selection Advisory Council members joined us for these calls, helping us evaluate the strengths and challenges of the organizations and discussing how they might fit into the Cincinnati landscape. We never want to replicate or compete with existing groups that are doing excellent work in Cincinnati! We are only looking for organizations that complement and support ongoing efforts.

For some of the issue areas, the pipelines were small, as only a handful of models exist to specifically address the issue. Other pipelines were far more robust.  There are so many small differences in an organization’s mission, program, and methods that affect where and how they can be most successful. Each issue area has as many intricacies, and we spoke to numerous community members and groups, direct consumers of existing programs, funders, and potential partners to understand which organizations had the mission, methods, potential, and results that fit the exact needs of our community.

Comparing organizations that address the same problem is nuanced enough, but comparing organizations that address needs of completely different populations with totally different obstacles is downright challenging. As some people at GreenLight like to say when trying to compare organizations, “It isn’t like comparing apples to oranges…it is like comparing apples to a steak!” These organizations not only differ in their overall mission statements, but also in their approaches, funding, organizational structure, and a dozen other ways that make comparing them side to side not easy.

The logistical conversations around comparing the program method, financial health, growth strategy, and evaluations are always surrounded with the larger, more philosophical questions of: “Which of these needs feels the most immediate?” “Is one cause more deserving than another?” “What happens if we do nothing?” There are no clear answers.

But after spending months researching each and every aspect of an issue area and spending weeks and weeks doing diligence on the amazing organizations that are taking on some our nation’s biggest challenges, I am more hopeful and optimistic than I have ever been about the challenges that we face as a city. This summer, the GreenLight Cincinnati team is hitting the road to see these programs in action. We will visit our three finalist organizations to talk with staff, clients, board members, and community partners to discover which one to bring home with us. The Cincinnati community is unique, but our challenges are not, and I am so energized to see that when innovative ideas and programs are given the resources and support they need, deep, lasting change is possible.