Co-Invest for Impact: Building a Stronger Community

At the National Fund for Workforce Solutions, we catalyze our network to co-invest in a set of integrated solutions that enable workers, employers, and communities to advance a skilled workforce, promote good jobs and invest in equitable outcomes. By using a co-investment model that leverages both private and public funding, our network of communities have greater resources to do the work. In this blog series, we will dig into some of the different co-investment models being used in the National Fund’s network of regional collaboratives.

The following conversation with Mireya Eavey, Executive Director of CareerEdge Funders Collaborative, highlights the unique strategies for co-investment in Sarasota. This conversation was edited for brevity.

What does co-investment look like in Sarasota? 

Co-investment at CareerEdge is between foundations, employers, and county government. One of the things that impacts how we approach co-investment is being a part of the Chamber of Commerce in Sarasota. To qualify to apply for grant funding from CareerEdge, employers now have to be a Chamber member at a certain level. While this is an additional funding stream for us, it also provides tangible value to the employers. They’re investing in a Chamber of Commerce that’s investing back into the community through increases in workforce dollars available to upskill workers.

Tell us about your collaborative’s funding model and the types of resources that you’re leveraging in the Sarasota region. How much is pooled vs. aligned funding?

From day one, we’ve focused on private funding and aligned ourselves with foundations that have the same goals as ours – to provide economic mobility and improve the lives of individuals in our community, with a focus on targeting underserved communities and promoting racial equity. We’re helping these foundations reach their goals through our work, so we have greater resources to provide more flexible and nimble funding to employers. Overall, about 97% of our funding is private funding, most of which is pooled. The rest of our funding comes from Sarasota County and employers to co-invest in skills training. We do not fully fund training, so employers pay a share of the training costs.

Sometimes we see an opportunity where state or federal dollars are available for a project and recommend that an employer applies for those dollars. This allows our pooled funds to train more individuals. We used to have a lot more funding like this that we would count toward the work we were doing. But for the most part, we pool funds from our philanthropic partners to focus on our core projects and mission.

Describe how you’ve been able to braid or blend private philanthropy and National Fund resources with state and federal funding. What are the benefits of this approach? Challenges?

We are very mission-focused at CareerEdge. We’ve never chased money just to chase it. We only go after money that falls within the goals of what we are trying to accomplish. We have never applied for federal and state dollars, because we think it would put limitations on our model the work that we’re trying to accomplish. The dollars from the state and federal government and our workforce boards are specific to the work that they’re doing. To us, blended funding is more about working in parallel. We’re enhancing their work with private funding. That’s why private philanthropy has been so important for us.

Private funding provides us ultimate flexibility to meet employer needs without the regulations and guidelines that come with federal and state dollars. While National Fund grants may have more targeted requirements, those dollars help us achieve our overall goals. We can count on the dollars from the National Fund to help us reach our mission and enhance the work in the region.

How are employers investing in the work?

Employers are investing in our work in various ways. They are providing their staff to serve as trainers in our “Fast Track” training programs, which has a monetary value since we don’t have to pay for a trainer. Employers are also investing into membership into the Chamber of Commerce, which turns into more workforce dollars available in our community that can be used for systems change and upskilling workers. Also, employers are providing a lot of the tools and equipment needed in trades training.

Lastly, and I think this is something that we undervalue, employers are investing a lot of their time. It can be curriculum development, apprenticeship training, or sacrificing production time to be a part of roundtable discussions about strategies to develop the talent in our community. Employers will even attend county commission meetings representing CareerEdge, or even travel to D.C. for meetings on Capitol Hill. Employers are putting a tremendous amount of time and energy to be part of the solution, and that has to count as an investment as well.

What keeps funders engaged in the collaborative? How important is the co-investment model to your success? Is it seen as a strategy to reach scale?

One way that we keep our investors engaged is that we work very closely with them – communicating regularly, sharing stories of someone’s life that has been changed because of the dollars that they invested. Keeping an open line of communication and engagement shows that we’re looking out for the best interests of them and their donors. We are using their donor’s dollars to accomplish their organization’s goals – improving lives. We believe in telling our story and the stories of the people whose lives we’ve changed. So we keep it very real.

Another strategy is thinking about the future. What are we going to do three years out? What are the foundations going to focus on? Are they going to focus on the work that we’re trying to do, upskilling and economic mobility? We know that we can continue engaging with the foundations because they have similar aspirations now and in the future.

A challenge that we face as funders collaboratives is that – now I’m going to be biased because I think that our work is outstanding – the system changes and impact that we’re creating in communities gets a lot of attention, and other organizations want to try to do the same work we’re doing. So they start going after the same donors and funders to do the same type of work, which makes it harder to raise funds.

But, when we talk about scaling, we’re not just talking about CareerEdge. We’re talking about community-wide scale to achieve greater impact. So when we think of using these funds to implement best practices, we need to think of our whole community being able to reach more individuals.

What advice would you give to other communities interested in diversifying the types of resources they leverage? 

Some advice that I would give is to really understand your business plan in service of your mission. Don’t chase money and start a new program that is not in your wheelhouse. I’ve done it, and I can tell you it is miserable. It is painful. It is the longest grant you’ll work. Start by asking yourself, “What is your expertise?” From there, align yourself with foundations, donors, and organizations that have the same goals in mind. Then, fundraise with those organizations.


ABOUT CAREEREDGE FUNDERS COLLABORATIVE

CareerEdge strives to provide an exceptional labor force to the growing industries in the Tampa Bay to Sarasota region by leveraging community assets and creating high-performing workforce partnerships. CareerEdge was designed to work on both sides of the labor market—the supply side and the demand side—as well as among intermediary organizations, such as higher education institutions, in order to fuel the pipeline of skilled labor needed by the region’s employers.

Two of the most tangible goals are to help low-skilled/low-wage workers advance into higher-skill/higher-wage careers, while providing employers with the workers they need to accelerate growth.