The Piton Foundation's Strengthening Communities program area helps low-income families improve their lives by empowering them to influence and create positive change in the policies and programs that affect their lives and that lead to tangible, sustainable outcomes.
With a fundamental belief in democracy and a readiness to leverage democratic principles as tools for social change, The Piton Foundation is forging new ways for philanthropic foundations to strategically work with communities beyond simply providing financial support.
Previously known as Strengthening Neighborhoods, this program area always has been focused on creating strategies and programs geared toward helping vulnerable groups. The new Strengthening Communities program area moves beyond the place-based strategy of Strengthening Neighborhoods, reflecting a more comprehensive view of communities that is defined by identity, place, and practice. Strengthening Communities leverages investments in data, research, organizing efforts, and close, long-term relationships with the people in community and the organizations that serve them.
Through the Strengthening Communities program area, Piton actively explores and develops strategies to take action on emerging issues that substantially impact low-income communities. These strategies come to life in four distinct practice areas: community organizing, social networks, philanthropic learning, and data and research.
1. COMMUNITY ORGANIZING
Community organizing is the coming together of individuals and organizations to create opportunities for active engagement in civic life. It involves educating people about the issues that affect them, enabling them to feel empowered to make social change, and encouraging them to have an active role in the decision-making process. Piton understands that organizers and their actions can have a critical impact on public policy, legislation, institutional practices, and social programs, and therefore, has helped to spearhead two community organizing collaboratives:
- Colorado Community Organizing Collaborative (CCOC) is a partnership of grassroots community organizing groups that are working together to address the inequities and power imbalances that exist in Colorado, and improve programs and policies in the areas of immigrant rights, healthcare, education, and jobs and wages.
- Communities for Public Education Reform (CPER) was formed in early 2007 to improve education for students by giving parents and students a stronger voice in shaping the policies that affect their public schools Read more Read more.
2. SOCIAL NETWORKS
Social networks -- the interconnections between people who rely on each other for the exchange of ideas, resources and information -- enable families to reach a wide and diverse array of relationships and gain access to quality services, as well as drive and shape the programs that service them. Social network theory is put into practice by the Denver Social Network Partnership, a coalition formed by Piton. The partnership serves predominately low-income families or families who otherwise feel disconnected due to barriers created by poverty, language, and culture differences. Read more
3. Philanthropic Learning
The Piton Foundation treats all of its relationships as lifetime partnerships. This is evident in its adherence to a concept called "embedded philanthropy." An entirely new way of thinking among foundations, embedded philanthropy is characterized by Chapin Hall Center for Children as "an unusually intimate and long-term engagement with the communities in which you live and work."
Through the Strengthening Communities program area, Piton takes embedded philanthropy to a new dimension. It actively seeks opportunities to learn from and build powerful relationships with communities with which it works. This is done by bringing together a cross-section of partnering organizations -- both philanthropy and organizing groups -- and leveraging their diverse strengths for the benefit of communities. With these collective resources brought to the table, groups pursuing a common cause also help reduce the power differential that so often interferes with grantee/grantor relationships.
Strengthening Communities spearheaded the formation of the Philanthropic Community Organizing Collaborative (PCOC), which brings together funders looking for ways to leverage their own philanthropic support for sustainable social change in Colorado. The collaborative places a special emphasis on helping community organizing partners and others build their individual and collective ability to inform and advance a regional agenda. As the philanthropic arm of the Colorado Community Organizing Collaborative, the PCOC connects funders with grassroots organizing groups in order to elevate funders' understanding of organizing, campaigns, and capacity building initiatives. Collectively, they offer valuable knowledge, expertise, resources, and a common vision for social justice.
4. Data and research
Data and research historically have been offered by The Piton Foundation with a focus on democratizing data and putting it into the hands of people who can use it effectively. With a clear emphasis on pushing a social justice agenda, Piton believes that data should be publicly available and used.
Piton also believes that reliable and objective information should be the basis of all political, policy and economic decisions. The foundation is a founding member of the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership (NNIP), a collaborative effort by the Urban Institute and local partners in 30 cities nationwide to further the development and use of neighborhood-level information systems in local policymaking and community building. Piton hosts community and school-based indicators on its web site. In addition, Piton conducts custom analysis for its community partners.
Tying it all together
Just as human relationships connect people together and create pathways for change through conversations and actions, the four practice areas within Strengthening Communities -- community organizing, social networks, philanthropic learning, and data and research -- are all interrelated. Working together dynamically to spark change, these practice areas are always forming bridges to one another as well as to other organizations and the communities they serve.