After almost nine years of implementing a social investing strategy, the Tauck Family Foundation’s priorities have deeply taken root across their portfolio of investee partners even in the face of a global pandemic that destabilized the world. Over the investment period from 2013-2021, the Foundation prioritized cultivating trusting, mutually respectful relationships with investees and community stakeholders, to which–along with choosing values aligned investee partners with strong leaders–they attribute their progress toward their strategic objectives. Bridgeport’s impressive education and nonprofit champions, including those profiled in this case study, and many others who are not, seized TFF’s investment as a collective mandate to pursue their ambitious agendas. In parallel, TFF’s dynamic, exacting, relationship-centered leadership held the Foundation to the same high standards as its own investees. Partnership, transparency, inclusion, careful listening, introspection, and reliability are TFF’s hallmarks.
In 2013, investing in Bridgeport was seen as a risk due to seemingly intractable challenges associated with high rates of poverty, massive income inequality, a lack of well-paying jobs, community violence, and a history of government corruption. TFF sought to build on the community’s assets and honor its strengths through an investing model that centered partnership and trust to drive performance and, ultimately, outcomes. TFF’s investments have helped each investee to build resilience and navigate the better part of the last decade–both in terms of long-standing challenges and unanticipated crises–driven by a shared focus on improving outcomes for children and families. TFF’s staff understood the huge challenge it invited by investing in the complex, resource constrained ecosystem that is Bridgeport and therefore their success rested on not only being laser focused on building the organizational capacity of their investees, but also learning about, understanding, and being responsive to the Bridgeport community’s needs.
It is important to note that TFF has offered its investees access to cutting edge SEL research, practice, and assessment tools as well as some of the nations most esteemed SEL scholars. Through partnerships with Yale and Harvard among others, TFF and Bridgeport have become known for their SEL work among both the education philanthropy community and an increasing number of districts striving to also adopt a holistic approach to education in response to the pandemic’s toll on children.
Though TFF’s support comes with considerable expectations around collaborative planning as well as progress reporting, over the investment period investees found the time spent with Foundation staff to be valuable and enjoyable and the planning tools, overall, to be useful–with some investees incorporating them into their own management practices. While the Foundation’s specific capacity building categories and outcome terminology remain useful primarily only to the Foundation, an outcomes focus is apparent across the portfolio.
Not surprisingly, the work has proven complex, varied, and iterative, demonstrating just how much detailed attention, ongoing funding, focus on capacity, and time is required to begin to see measurable outcomes. As is true for all foundations, TFF had no control over the backdrop against which they made their investments, and in reality, very little influence over what their investees–who have multiple funders to satisfy and many stakeholders to answer to–actually did or did not do. The selection of a strong portfolio teed TFF up for success on this front.
It is clear that the TFF staff and Tauck family have genuine respect and admiration for their investees, which has enabled them to advocate authentically with other funders, bolstering the sustainability of their partners. That admiration is mutual, with TFF’s staff viewed as highly supportive and effective. The connections, thought partnership, validation, camaraderie, and care offered by the TFF staff are both deeply appreciated by investees and acknowledged as unusual in their experience with grantmakers.
While the Tauck Family Foundation’s story is still unfolding, overall, their investment strategy can be viewed as a success story: not because it can be conclusively determined that Bridgeport’s children are now meeting every academic “success” measure, but because their right to educational experiences that support their holistic development is being honored and a steadfast commitment to improvement is evident in the day-to-day work of each TFF investee.