The Strong Field Framework: A Guide and Toolkit for Funders and Nonprofits Committed to Large-Scale Impact

Published Date: July 08, 2009

Helping young people in poor neighborhoods transition successfully to adulthood. Demonstrating that low-income students can graduate from high school ready for college and career. Ensuring that all children show up for kindergarten ready to learn.

Our nation’s leading foundations and nonprofits are committed to achieving compelling and far-reaching goals like those above. Many of them, however, have come to believe that their bold aspirations cannot be realized without a critical mass of organizations and individuals aligned and working effectively as a field. For the goals mentioned above, the strength of the after-school, charter school and early education fields, respectively, may mean the difference between success and failure.

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That’s why field building is a critical strategy for social change; it’s also why funders and nonprofits committed to large-scale impact know that they need to be intentional about strengthening the fields in which they operate. Yet these agents of social change often struggle to understand how to focus their field-building investments and activities because they lack a comprehensive and coherent map of the strengths and weaknesses of their field.

To help address this challenge, The James Irvine Foundation asked The Bridgespan Group to develop an approach to assessing the strengths and needs of a field. The result is a framework for building more robust fields, The Strong Field Framework, presented in this report.

The Strong Field Framework can help other foundations and nonprofits to assess the strengths and needs of the fields they seek to build, and to prioritize their efforts and investments. It has helped us become more strategic in our field-building work; we have also found that the very act of assessing a field, if done in collaboration with the field’s leaders, can help to coalesce the organizations and agencies working towards a common goal in powerful ways.

We hope it can do the same for you, and we would welcome your input and feedback as well as accounts of your own experiences, as you work to strengthen your field.

Please download the full Strong Field Framework report at the James Irvine Foundation Web site.

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