Early this year, before it became clear that 2020 would be so challenging and paradigm-shifting, OSI-Baltimore was planning to engage its many stakeholders to get a better understanding of the organization’s strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities—and those of local philanthropy more broadly—as a starting point for strategic planning for 2021 and beyond.
As the year progressed, and the enduring impact of COVID-19, the expanding movement for racial justice, and the volatile political landscape took shape, the stakeholder engagement process took on even greater urgency. With this in mind, a Stakeholder Engagement Committee made up of OSI staff worked with independent consultant Jonalyn Denlinger to develop evaluation tools to engage as many Baltimoreans as possible. They also worked with targeted stakeholders to get a better sense of how the organization can meet this moment and build more meaningful relationships.
The main evaluation tool, the OSI-Baltimore Stakeholder Engagement Survey, was designed to gather data and insights from the public that will aid the OSI team in assessing the broader local and philanthropic landscape, and general impressions regarding the current and potential future contributions of the organization. Two additional tools, targeted stakeholder interviews and focus groups, delved more deeply into questions and topics covered through the public survey and developed a more nuanced understanding of the survey responses.
“As an organization, it’s imperative that we do all we can to better understand how the evolving local and national landscape might impact our work and focus, and what role we can play to contribute to advancing sustainable solutions,” says OSIBaltimore Director, Danielle Torain. “The Stakeholder Engagement process gave us a trove of information that we will mine as we set a path for our work in the coming years.
What Did OSI’s Stakeholders Say?
Some of the high-level issues in Baltimore that stakeholders identified:
- “A Tale of Two Cities” – the role of race and structural institutionalized racism in perpetuating local disparities across a variety of indicators of well-being – housing, education, safety, food access, income, technology, etc.
- Economic injustice – race and economic mobility; the income/wealth gap
- Lack of investment in leaders of color – nonprofit infrastructure needs and lack of capacity
- Community violence, safety, and criminal justice reform
- Social safety net, including housing and meeting of basic human needs such as food and healthcare access
- Education – access to and high-quality provision of education
And these were identified as OSI’s organizational critiques:
- Funding creates dependency and perpetuates existing power structures; lack of transparency in funding
- Convenes without knowledge or acknowledgement of its own power in the space; doesn’t always listen to those who are experts in the space
- Leverages connections but doesn’t bridge those connections for leaders in
- Baltimore, specifically leaders of color
- OSI’s talent doesn’t always show up outside of OSI (join boards, commissions, etc)
- Lack of clarity of overarching mission and vision of the organization, including how key bodies of work align
- Tries to do it all – get clear on what you hope to achieve and accomplish
Some of the solutions that were identified:
- “Long-term, sustained movement building”
- Investment in grassroots organizing capacity and community-driven solutions – particularly organizations and movements led by people of color
- Advocacy, systems reform and systems change
- Greater collaboration across institutions
These were identified as some of OSI’s organizational strengths:
- Focus on racial justice
- History of investment in policy reform, systems change and organizing
- Willingness to make “risk” investments
- Willingness to invest in issues that others are not interested in such as community safety, criminal justice reform, addiction, and racial justice movements
- Early and sustained investor in social movements
- Exceptional, talented team