Making Welfare to Work Work
The McKnight Foundation set out to help move along welfare reform in Minnesotaand in the process won the first Paul Ylvisaker Award for Public Policy Engagement.
The Minneapolis-based McKnight Foundation believes that public policy change is built on direct service, and it has put its money where its mouth isto the tune of $27 million since 1997. This commitment, the largest in the nation, was made to McKnight's Welfare to Work Initiative with one clear goalto help welfare reform succeed in Minnesota by expanding it beyond job placement to skill training and career laddering, helping families to obtain and, more importantly, maintain employment.
For its efforts, McKnight has been presented the Council on Foundations' inaugural Paul Ylvisaker Award for Public Policy Engagement, which was created to recognize foundations that show courage, passion, vision and creativity in public policy related activities.
"The greatest lesson McKnight learned through this initiative," said McKnight Executive Vice President Carol Berde, "is that the foundation role in public policy is multidimensional. By pursuing many strategies a foundation can have a significant cumulative effect in the public policy arena. It's more likely that one actually can point to results and say, 'We helped make a difference.' But it's important to remember that even individual activities can help move the policy agenda along."
Filling the Gaps
Sweeping federal and state reforms require most welfare recipients to find jobs within five years. McKnight's financial support persuaded public and private agencies to assume responsibility collectively, as a community, for making those transitions from welfare to work successful. Funding came in installments of an initial three-year commitment followed by a two-year commitment.
McKnight helped create 22 cross-sector partnerships among people and institutions unaccustomed to working together, including employers, governments, nonprofits and faith-based organizations. The partnerships, which covered 86 of Minnesota's 87 counties, were charged to develop education, training, childcare, transportation and mentoring strategies to support workers.
One partner, the Anoka County Job Training Center, received a McKnight grant to implement its Minnesota Family Investment Program. "What was unique about the funding," said Director Jerry D. Vitzthum, "was the flexibility. McKnight left it up to the community groups to decide what was needed, and then, funded itexactly opposite of what the state and federal funders were doing. Usually, you also find foundations looking to fund something specific versus filling in the gaps. This became more than a government approach to get people off welfare, but an effort to bring the community together to solve a problem."
Vitzthum acknowledges the tangible aftereffects of the forged partnershipsnoting that counseling and support groups begun through the churches will continue, and that car donation and repair programs as well as a childcare support program for refugees were begun after McKnight funding ended.
Connecting the Dots
McKnight used several strategies to link partnership participants to public policy, including
Evaluation of McKnight's cross-sector partnerships spurred the Minnesota legislature to approve a $53 million grant modeled on the program and its services. Of the 16 projects awarded state funding, seven originated in McKnight partnerships. Some services had not initially been funded by the state, but were given a vote of confidence through McKnight funding and were then viewed as viable candidates for state funds.
At both state and county levels, the partnerships' experiences and legislative testimony resulted in reduced caseload size, better training for welfare workers and colocation of government and nonprofit services.
Though McKnight's funding will end in 2002, its results, made through the partnerships, appear to be lasting. Partnership leadersboth individuals and agenciesare looked to as resources and are being asked to help with national planning efforts to support workers. Community partnerships became important resources for shaping local policies and support as welfare caseloads began to climb again in the 2001-2002 recession. Hostile attitudes toward welfare recipients have changed to empathy for their struggles, and both community leaders and policymakers have gained a greater appreciation for the support needed by low-wage workers and their families. That is especially important now that many on welfare will soon reach the limit of their lifetime benefit, and discussions are underway to decide what to do for people still unable to support themselves and their families.
The Ylvisaker Legacy
Paul Ylvisaker worked as a planner, innovator, government official, foundation executive and educator. Dedicated to improving the lives of citizens living in urban poverty, Ylvisaker spent his earlier years working for the mayor of Philadelphia, and then the Ford Foundation, where he created the Gray Areas Program, through which he oversaw the allocation of more than $200 million in grants. Ylvisaker's efforts would lead to urban renewal policies, such as the Community Action Program and the Model Cities Program.
Ylvisaker later returned to academia as dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education. There he led an effort to increase Harvard's enrollment of women and minorities.
In 1982, Ylvisaker became a senior consultant to the Council on Foundations. Until his death in 1992, Ylvisaker delved into the examination of family philanthropy and the role of philanthropy in civil society. He was awarded the Council on Foundations Distinguished Grantmaker Award in 1990.
The Council on Foundations Public Policy Task Force suggested the creation of an award to inform and inspire other grantmakers to become engaged in policy work in its report's final recommendations in 2000. It was subsequently recommended that the award be named in honor of Ylvisaker; a man known for his contributions in philanthropy and the public sector.
Allan R. Clyde is associate editor of Foundation News & Commentary.