Hello, I’m Nicky Grist of the Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund (CFE Fund). The CFE Fund’s inaugural project, in partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies, was to launch Financial Empowerment Centers (FECs) in Denver, CO; Lansing, MI; Nashville, TN; Philadelphia, PA; and San Antonio, TX. The FEC program design centers on:
- Providing free, unlimited, individualized, confidential financial counseling for low-income people, emphasizing both problem solving and personal empowerment;
- Forming a strong partnership between city government and an implementing nonprofit (selected by each city for its community connections, experience helping people facing financial insecurity, and ability to manage the counselors and data system);
- Recruiting participants through partnerships between the implementing nonprofit and a wide variety of municipal and community-based agencies;
- Capturing quantitative data on financial outcomes; and
- Ensuring counselor professionalism through upfront and on-going training.
Our goal was to test whether, and how, a successful New York City program could be replicated in different settings. For three years, we provided grants and technical assistance to the cities and their nonprofit partners, teaching them the program design and monitoring and evaluating the results.
The evaluation design was descriptive, exploring how the program worked and for what kind of people it worked best. It focused on the cities as stakeholders who intended to use the evaluation results to support program sustainability after Bloomberg Philanthropies’ funding ended. It was also designed to inform philanthropic, government and nonprofit decision makers who are considering similar program models.
The evaluation provided a more detailed explication of the FEC program model than ever before, confirmed a high degree of fidelity despite very different urban settings, addressed funders’ questions about how to assess program quality and client achievement, demonstrated how the program design supported sustainability, and revealed considerations for future replications.
- Fidelity to the model was facilitated by the strong and flexible program design: we insisted on critical elements while recognizing that every partnership is different. Having a single funder and central source of technical assistance also helped.
- Learning communities also supported program fidelity. We shaped opportunities around the five critical design elements, and met separately with managers and counselors to emphasize experiences relevant to their roles.
- Engaging city government as a partner supported sustainability. Each city invested government funds and championed the nonprofits’ fundraising efforts after the grant ended.
- Hear about evaluations of the FECs and related programs at #Eval16.
- See the FEC model and hear from counselors in this video.
- Learn more about how foundations and nonprofits can partner with local government in papers on “Building Economic Security in America’s Cities”, and “City Financial Inclusion Efforts”.
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