Press Release: Council on Foundations’ Highest Award Goes to National Fund for Workforce Solutions

Published apr. 27, 2010

BOSTON, MA (April 27, 2010) – Today, the National Fund for Workforce Solutions received the Distinguished Grantmaking Award for Collaboration from the Council on Foundations, a Washington, DC-based nonprofit membership association of some 2,000 grantmaking foundations and corporations.

The Distinguished Grantmaking Award puts the spotlight on an individual or individuals who have made significant contributions to the field of philanthropy. First presented in 1984, this award celebrates those who exemplify the values and practices that the Council promotes and encourages.

In 22 regions across the country, the National Fund for Workforce Solutions partners with more than 200 local funders to work closely with employers and workforce leaders from the public and nonprofit sectors to help prepare workers to succeed in a post-recession economy.

“At a time when the Council brings all elements of the philanthropic field together to see ourselves as a movement, there is no better example of leadership than the National Fund for Workforce Solutions,” said Steve Gunderson, President and CEO, The Council on Foundations. “The vision and leadership that has brought together hundreds of funders nationwide in an unprecedented effort to help low‐income Americans build careers and businesses compete, represents our collective work for the future.”

The National Fund is led by nine national investors who work closely with approximately 200 funders in states, regions, and communities nationwide: Annie E. Casey Foundation; the California Endowment; Ford Foundation; John S. and James L. Knight Foundation; Microsoft; The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation; The Hitachi Foundation; The Prudential Foundation; and the Walmart Foundation.

“There are approximately 80 million adults in the workforce who fear for their future because they don’t see how they can gain the skills to be valuable in the 21st century economy,” said Barbara Dyer, president and CEO of The Hitachi Foundation and chair of the National Fund. “We have employers that cannot find workers with the kinds of skills they need to propel their businesses forward. Ultimately, it’s a problem for the competitiveness of the nation. It’s the role of philanthropy to create an environment that sparks innovative solutions.”

Five general strategies provide unity to the National Fund approach nationwide, but implementation varies greatly in each community: 1) create regional funding collaboratives that bring together government agencies, foundations, and other philanthropic organizations to target financial resources and strategic thinking on creating jobs and careers; 2) organize workforce partnerships that create long-term relationships between employers and service providers; 3) develop strategies for specific industry sectors, focusing on the sectors that are important to the local economy; 4) build career pathways that, practically in a step-by-step fashion, offer entry-level workers and people seeking employment real opportunities for advancement to jobs that pay good wages; and 5) align and coordinate the many programs, organizations, and funding sources that, together, make up a community’s approach to preparing people for new careers.

The successful approach of the National Fund can be seen in the experiences of James Ballard of Philadelphia.  Ballard is just completing a program, operated by The Federation of Neighborhood Centers in Philadelphia, that is preparing jobseekers for “green jobs.” The program, part of a National Fund site, is making sure workers have the math, language, and “soft skills” they need to move into training for solar panel installation, weatherization, and foam insulation. In eight weeks his computational math skills increased 4.5 grade levels. “Hopefully, I’ll become an installer,” he says. “I’ll not only do the panels but also the drop down of the wiring from the solar panels to the electricity grids.  Maybe in four or five years I’ll start my own business.”

The Council on Foundations is a national nonprofit association of approximately 2,000 grantmaking foundations and corporations. As a leader in philanthropy, the Council strives to increase the effectiveness, stewardship, and accountability of the philanthropic sector while providing its members with the services and support they need for success.

In 22 sites across the country, the National Fund is working closely with employers and leaders from the public and nonprofit sectors to find solutions, testing how the lessons learned from groundbreaking pilot projects in workforce development can be applied on a national scale.

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