Knight Report Highlights Fund for Our Economic Future, Lessons Learned

by | Nov 19, 2013



CONTACT: Anusha Alikhan, Director of Communications, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, 305-908-2677,




New report highlights regional collaboration as a catalyst for economic growth


Ohio-based Fund for Our Economic Future provides lessons for partnership across sectors


Akron, OH–Nov. 19, 2013–A new report offers civic leaders practical lessons on building regional collaboration to address challenges and opportunities that are too big to take on alone. The report, “Catalyzing Regional Economic Transformation: Lessons From Funder Collaboration in Northeast Ohio,” highlights the experiences of the Fund for Our Economic Future, launched in 2004 by a group of philanthropic organizations to turn around the hard-hit economy of Northeast Ohio.




The report, which was developed by the Fund in partnership with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, charts the Fund’s progress over seven years. It outlines tactical lessons on effective collaboration that can be adopted in regions facing similar struggles. Also included is data on the impact that the Fund has had in the region, along with practical examples and tips for cross-sector collaboration. The Fund includes representatives from private and community foundations, higher education, hospital systems, business and government.




“Funders and institutions are increasingly realizing the importance of addressing complex economic and social issues through greater collaboration. This report identifies ways to increase the effectiveness of funder collaboration,” said Jon Sotsky, Knight Foundation director of strategy and assessment. “The lessons, based on almost a decade of work at the Fund, including successes and struggles, can be tremendously valuable for businesses, nonprofits and governments who adopt collaboration as a way to strengthen economic opportunity.”




“The past decade has been a wild ride for philanthropy in Northeast Ohio,” said Brad Whitehead, president of the Fund for Our Economic Future. “We are very proud of our progress and believe there are lessons to be learned.  But we are also cognizant of where we have come up short and believe that those incidents may be equally instructive for others as they try to launch or accelerate their own efforts.”




The original 28 Fund members came together in response to growing problems of poverty and unemployment in the region; the Fund now has more than 50 members. Funders have pooled more than $90 million and invested more through individual economic development grants, including $141 million in grants in 2011 and 2012. Additionally, the Fund has helped the region attract more than $100 million in federal and state support.




Drawing from these successes, the report details key lessons on fostering effective collaboration and the pitfalls to avoid. It also highlights some insightful takeaways:





    • Foundations can play a key role in identifying ways that stakeholders can collaborate to build regional strategies for economic competitiveness;


    • Involving the right stakeholders across sectors can produce transformative impact;


    • True partnership with the private sector is a key success factor;


    • Research is a powerful tool to forge consensus about priorities and approaches; Coming together to apply for external funding can be another organizing principle.


    • Foundations are well equipped to build public support for change, but they need to go beyond traditional grant-maker roles.





The report gives business, nonprofit and government leaders a reference point for developing new strategies and models. Importantly, it shows that the Fund’s investments and guidance since 2004 have resulted in a more vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem and have advanced new industries.




By the end of 2012, the Fund’s efforts helped the region create more than 12,000 new jobs, nearly $400 million in new payroll through emerging businesses, and almost $2.2 billion in new capital to sustain existing businesses and grow new economic activity. More than half of the gains occurred between 2010 and 2012. However, the report identifies some gaps in organizational structure, as well as the Fund’s struggles in tackling issues such as business retention, talent development and economic inclusion. Recommendations on addressing these challenges are included.




“This report is an important milestone in the Fund’s continued service to Northeast Ohio,” said Deborah D. Hoover, chair of the Fund, and president and CEO of the Burton D. Morgan Foundation. “It will guide our work into the future by helping us to better understand our impact to date and achieve our goals.”


About the Fund for Our Economic Future


Formed in 2004, the Fund for Our Economic Future is a philanthropic collaboration committed to promoting the well-being of Northeast Ohio residents by shaping and sustaining a long-term economic competitiveness strategy. Over the past decade, Fund members have committed more than $90 million and have volunteered thousands of hours of time to provide regional leadership, award grants and foster a collaborative environment for philanthropy to achieve its mission. The Fund partners with private and public sector leaders to coordinate  activities and align resources that increase economic growth and opportunity within Northeast Ohio — a 16-county region that includes metropolitan areas of Akron, Canton, Cleveland-Elyria and Youngstown-Warren.




About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation


Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged.