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Realigning Priorities and Strategies in Marin County

The Marin Community Foundation engaged FSG to refresh its strategic plan and to align grants and loans staff and board members around a focused set of grantmaking goals.

Marin is one of the wealthiest counties in the United States per capita, but the community still struggles with a large educational achievement gap, significant health inequities, and pockets of deep poverty and need. While the Marin Community Foundation (MCF) has a significant discretionary grantmaking budget to address local issues, the magnitude of the issues far exceeds these resources—a problem that is familiar to many philanthropic funders. MCF hired FSG to help its leaders reflect on the past six years of work and to refine the foundation’s programmatic areas, goals, and strategies. One of the guiding principles through that process was MCF’s desire to align program priorities in ways that would enhance effectiveness, opportunities for collaboration, and community/partner engagement.

After collecting, analyzing, and synthesizing external information, FSG worked closely with the grants and loans team to identify areas of progress, key accomplishments, challenges, and new opportunities to maximize social impact in Marin County. FSG then helped the grants and loans team and board members examine the strategic changes they needed to make across 10 areas of programmatic work. These included:

  • Closing the education achievement gap
  • Ending the cycle of poverty
  • Increasing affordable housing
  • Promoting arts and culture
  • Achieving equity in legal protection
  • Improving community health
  • Integrating immigrants
  • Promoting social justice and interfaith understanding
  • Ensuring successful aging with access to food, employment, and social, educational, and therapeutic services
  • Protecting the environment

To guide decision-making, FSG analyzed secondary research, incorporated input from staff and board members, and interviewed community stakeholders, including grantees, government officials, community members, executive leaders of nonprofits, and other funders who had expertise on the issues.

The resulting recommendations included the following:

  • Develop a refined strategic approach to grantmaking: A refined strategic approach focuses on four key themes that aim to create equality of opportunity for every resident of Marin County. Those themes are education, economic opportunity, health, and the environment. Each area requires a specific and focused set of strategic initiatives.
  • Emphasize levers of change: MCF will fully deploy its expertise and resources by extending assistance to grantees by building capacity, fostering public and private partnerships, and developing civic engagement and leadership.

Through this process, MCF embodied the principles of catalytic leadership: a focus on impact, a willingness to use multiple tools and approaches, an ability to mobilize partners, and the determination to reflect, learn, and adapt its work to make significant progress on the issues in its community.

About Marin Community Foundation

Established in 1986, the Marin Community Foundation is one of the largest community foundations in the United States. Founded with one aspiration—“to make a difference in the lives of others through thoughtful, effective philanthropy”—the foundation manages approximately $1.6 billion in assets and distributes about $60 million in grants annually.