Five Questions with Casey: Bonnie Howard and the Power of Partnerships

Posted March 19, 2015
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Blog fivequestionswithbonniehoward 2015

Bonnie HowardAs direc­tor of nation­al part­ner­ships, Bon­nie Howard over­sees invest­ments and rela­tion­ships with orga­ni­za­tions that help the Casey Foun­da­tion make a big­ger dif­fer­ence in the lives of kids and fam­i­lies. This includes Casey’s nation­al pol­i­cy part­ners, a group of bipar­ti­san orga­ni­za­tions rep­re­sent­ing more than 50,000 elect­ed and appoint­ed offi­cials, and our nation­al civic part­ners, some of the largest, most influ­en­tial orga­ni­za­tions in the non­prof­it sector. 

After join­ing Casey in 2002, Howard ini­tial­ly worked to cre­ate access to eco­nom­ic oppor­tu­ni­ties for fam­i­lies liv­ing in tough neigh­bor­hoods. She began man­ag­ing the Foundation’s key part­ner­ships in 2010. Howard holds a bachelor’s degree in speech pathol­o­gy and audi­ol­o­gy from Howard Uni­ver­si­ty and a master’s degree in edu­ca­tion pol­i­cy, plan­ning and admin­is­tra­tion from Boston University.

Q1. Is Casey unique in its part­ner­ship work? 

In phil­an­thropy, part­ner­ships are not unique. Some of our part­ners are new to work­ing with foun­da­tions, but a lot of them have cor­po­rate spon­sors. Every­one real­izes that the work of help­ing kids and fam­i­lies is big­ger than any of us can accom­plish alone. It is impor­tant to bring in peo­ple who have knowl­edge and exper­tise that we lack as an orga­ni­za­tion so that every­one is bring­ing some­thing to the table. Over the past sev­er­al years, with everyone’s endow­ment reduced by the reces­sion, part­ner­ships have become even more crit­i­cal to the work we do, and they make it more robust. The kinds of issues that we are work­ing on are entrenched prob­lems, such as pover­ty, that you can’t buy your way out of, much less tack­le alone. 

Q2. Why is hav­ing a part­ner­ship strat­e­gy important?

Enter­ing into spe­cif­ic kinds of part­ner­ships is a con­scious deci­sion for us at Casey. It is impor­tant for us to form long-term rela­tion­ships with orga­ni­za­tions that we hope will be respon­sive to the issues we care about to ampli­fy our impact. These part­ners, through their respec­tive net­works, help pro­vide us with the bul­ly pul­pit and clout that give our issues vis­i­bil­i­ty and extend the reach of our solu­tions beyond what any of us can do on our own. They are cred­i­ble mes­sen­gers for the ideas we want oth­ers to take up. 

Q3. How has Casey changed or mod­i­fied its own work as a result of these partnerships?

When these part­ner­ships were con­ceived, we thought of these orga­ni­za­tions as a dis­tri­b­u­tion chan­nel for spread­ing key ideas and themes to their mem­bers and affil­i­ates because they have such large net­works. But over time, we have come to val­ue them much more as learn­ing part­ners. Many of these groups are on the front lines, so we can learn a lot from them. For exam­ple, we have sought input from spe­cif­ic part­ners before, dur­ing and after launch­ing a major report on a spe­cif­ic top­ic that relates to their work. We also make site vis­its to learn more about their inno­v­a­tive projects on issues such as work­force devel­op­ment, edu­ca­tion or two-gen­er­a­tion strate­gies. Part­ner­ships have been extreme­ly valu­able in inform­ing our think­ing and bring­ing con­cepts to scale. 

Q4. What makes an orga­ni­za­tion a can­di­date for a Casey partnership?

It’s all about mak­ing the mega­phone loud­er and mov­ing an agen­da. We have part­ners who are aligned, per­suad­able or even in con­flict with some aspects of our mis­sion. We have to fig­ure out ways to talk with and influ­ence peo­ple who have the pow­er to extend our influ­ence. For exam­ple, ensur­ing that all kids can read pro­fi­cient­ly by the end of the third grade is some­thing that groups such as the Unit­ed States Con­fer­ence of May­ors, the Nation­al League of Cities, Unit­ed Way and the YMCA can ral­ly around. These part­ner­ships give us a venue to help build sup­port for this issue and incor­po­rate prac­tices and mes­sages that com­ple­ment our mission.

Q5. How are these part­ner­ships mak­ing a dif­fer­ence for chil­dren and families?

The stronger our civic and pol­i­cy part­ner­ships are, the more they cat­alyze orga­ni­za­tions and lead­ers around the coun­try to embrace our ideas, put them into action and bring them to scale. This means more poli­cies and pro­grams that help chil­dren and fam­i­lies thrive, from pre­vent­ing sum­mer learn­ing loss, to job train­ing and place­ment for par­ents, to sup­port for incar­cer­at­ed moth­ers. We mea­sure the effec­tive­ness of our part­ner­ships by greater pro­mo­tion of Casey pri­or­i­ties, the pas­sage of leg­is­la­tion and appro­pri­a­tion of dol­lars in sup­port of low-income fam­i­lies, the pro­lif­er­a­tion of pro­grams proven to help chil­dren suc­ceed and the spread of prod­ucts that cap­ture and share best practices.

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