In 2016 the Social Innovation Forum (SIF) helped bring together a unique funding collaborative committed to working together to improve the lives of women and girls. As a 2016 Social Issue Track Partner, A Women & Girls Funding Collaborative worked with SIF to define a focus area, evaluate applicants, and eventually selected Budget Buddies (Lowell, MA), an organization with an innovative approach to empowering low-income women through financial education, as a 2016 Social Innovator.
Budget Buddies, a 2016 Social Innovator
Anita Saville, a financial advisor and writer by trade, and Kathy Brough, who worked in nonprofit operations and client advocacy, met and bonded over their shared a passion for empowering low-income women. Anita and Kathy embarked on an endeavor to meet the needs of this population and found that there was a specific gap in services: effective financial literacy education. In 2010, they launched an innovative program, Budget Buddies, which provides women one-on-one financial coaching and group learning focused on budgeting, banking, credit, and setting financial goals. After the first Budget Buddies cohort, Anita and Kathy sent out evaluation surveys and were elated with the results. Budget Buddies was effective in increasing women’s financial knowledge and abilities - they found a model that worked. In 2015 Budget Buddies applied to SIF to gain the tools and resources they needed to expand.
A Women and Girls Funding Collaborative, a 2016 Track Partner
For several years, the Boston-based Anna B. Stearns Charitable Foundation had partnered with the Social Innovation Forum to support organizations working on issues related to women and girls, but the Foundation wanted to try something new. The Foundation’s leadership envisioned a funding partnership. SIF Executive Director Susan Musinsky organized several meetings in order to convene a group of individuals and institutions, all of whom shared a goal of supporting the empowerment of women and girls. Neither Susan nor the Anna B. Stearns team knew what would emerge, but through information sessions and group dialogue, it became clear that more than a partnership was possible. A collaborative of five funders, who had previously never met, came together and bonded over their shared visions. Anna B. Stearns, The Miriam Fund, The Story Exchange, United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley, and Womenade Boston joined forces to support a track titled Overcoming Barriers to Education, Employment, and Economic Self-Sufficiency for Women and Girls. The members of the collaborative worked closely with the SIF team on the six-month evaluation (June - December 2015) process to select a Social Innovator for the track.
A Process that Promotes Funder Learning and Collaboration
We learned a tremendous amount—both from the SIF process and from one another—and worked together to determine which organization could have the biggest social impact.
The Women and Girls Funding Collaborative coalesced as they learned from each others’ experiences and perspectives. All were deeply committed to the mutual goal of empowering women and using SIF’s unique services to ensure their funding would be most effective. Cindy Rubin, Director of The Miriam Fund, expressed the value of SIF convening thoughtful discussions and debrief meetings with funders and experts in the field, saying, “SIF had the framework in place to move the group through the evaluation process. We learned a tremendous amount—both from the SIF process and from one another—and worked together to determine which organization could have the biggest social impact.” Eventually, out of the twenty-seven applicants in the track, Budget Buddies impressed A Women and Girls Funding Collaborative with its innovative approach to empowering low-income women and were chosen to participate in SIF’s accelerator program.
Budget Buddies’ First Year in the Accelerator
As a 2016 SIF Innovator, Budget Buddies was given the opportunity to work with a multitude of services to build its capacity, gain visibility, expand its networks, and improve its organizational performance. During their first nine months in the program, the founders worked with an SIF consultant, presentation advisors, two executive coaches, and several SIF in-kind partners, including Analysis Group (data analytics), Goodwin (legal), and Promus+ (fundraising). Anita and Kathy both credit the public speaking and storytelling coaching provided by Ariel Group with increasing their confidence as presenters. Anita states that the classes developed her “ability to be mentally present and responsive during a pitch.” The networking opportunities offered through SIF have been crucial to Budget Buddies’ growth. Anita explains that meeting funders at events like the Social Innovator Showcase have increased their ability to access new grants and funding sources. Additionally, connecting with other organizations within their Innovator cohort has helped Anita and Kathy personally and professionally. “Doing exercises together eased the tension and allowed us to feel motivated by each other’s successes. We learned from our fellow Innovators and their experiences,” explains Anita.
We learned from our fellow Innovators and their experiences.
Progress One Year Out
Since being chosen as an Innovator in December 2015, Budget Buddies has expanded its program sites by 50% and recently released its 2020 Vision Challenge, with a goal to reach 20 core programs and 20 affiliate programs by the year 2020. The organization has also procured new funding sources, including The Miriam Fund, Womenade Boston, Santander Bank, the Philanthropy Connection, the Women’s Fund of Essex County, Hazelden Foundation, and other individual donors.
Additionally, the women from the Women and Girls Funding Collaborative have gained a new network of individuals and institutions that are already leading to other forms of collaboration. Producers Victoria Wang and Sue Williams of The Story Exchange recently filmed Budget Buddies and produced a short film titled Budget Buddies: Mapping a Route Out of Homelessness. Budget Buddies hosted their funders to help capture the story of their programming. The Story Exchange is also developing another film about SIF 2013 Impact Entrepreneur GRIT and its innovative Freedom Wheelchairs.