Placing big bets with the Change Incubator

  • By Grantmakers for Effective Organizations, April 1, 2016

By Lori Bartczak

When GEO launched the Change Incubator last year, we were making three big bets:

  1. To support our community in the types of behavior change that are central to GEO’s mission, we need to work with members in a more intensive way than we have before.
  2. While GEO promotes a range of grantmaking practices, we should focus first on improving the way grantmakers engage their grantees and incorporate their voice, because we believe that authentic grantee engagement leads to more impact.
  3. And finally, as a community of more than 500 grantmaking organizations, we were not satisfied to limit our efforts to the organizations participating in the Change Incubator. To achieve a broader reach, Change Incubator participants would serve as ambassadors for GEO and champion the value of grantee inclusion across their networks.

Six months into the first cohort, we have plenty to feel good about. We have a strong partnership with Cambridge Leadership Associates, bringing their adaptive leadership curriculum to the program. While GEO programs typically focus on the technical components of change, this curriculum is requiring participants to be more reflective and focus on their individual role and how their interactions and relationships can contribute to or stand in the way of change, and our participants are finding great benefit in this approach. We are building our own staff capacity around coaching and facilitation, based on the hunch that this skillset will enable GEO staff to better support our members in meaningful change. And the participating foundations are committed to the program and have made strides in prioritizing grantee inclusion in all aspects of their work.

We feel we are hitting on some powerful insights that are likely to influence future programming

However, we are very much in the “messy middle” of this program, and many questions remain. As we prepare to launch the second cohort, we are building upon our successes and tackling challenges such as:

  • How can we provide the best support to our growing membership? In this pilot effort we are going deep with a few member organizations, which is quite different from our usual approach. As we look ahead we are wondering the extent to which we might be able to scale our success to reach a larger audience.
  • How can we support participants in playing the champion role? The stories we hear inside the walls of the Change Incubator include themes of navigating conflict, vulnerability and risk. We’re still considering how participants can show an authentic look at what’s involved in making meaningful change, and how we can help them share their stories in an inspirational and helpful way.
  • What other models might be helpful? We feel good about starting with adaptive leadership, but we recognize that there are many other frameworks that touch on similar themes of reflection, focusing on the individual role and engaging others in authentic ways. We will consider how we can continue to incorporate additional tools and perspectives into the program.
  • And, last but certainly not least, will participants make the types of changes we have in mind? With 10 months to go in the program, it’s too soon to say definitively, but we see promising signs of progress from each team.

While we’re still early in our pilot phase, we feel we are hitting on some powerful insights that are likely to influence future programming at GEO. We know many others are thinking about similar approaches for cultivating leadership and supporting organizational change. We are excited to learn in public through this microsite and hope to hear from others who have made similar big bets.