Maggie Cohen's Journey at SIF

A reflection on planning SIF's first-ever national learning cohort
  • By Maggie Cohen
  • Published on September 29, 2021

This summer, I took a trip across the country. From Los Angeles to Washington D.C., Miami to Detroit, Seattle to Austin to New Orleans, I spoke to nonprofit leaders, learning about their organizations and the impact they are making in their communities. Ok, so I didn’t actually travel anywhere beyond my computer screen, but I did spend my summer connecting with a diverse group of leaders from over 20 organizations all around the country. As a graduate fellow with the Social Innovation Forum, I am thrilled to be a part of planning SIF’s first-ever national learning cohort. With funding from the Fidelity Charitable Trustees’ Initiative, SIF is putting together a group of like-minded “marketplace-focused” organizations from around the US who will create a community centered around place-based, equitable philanthropy and capacity building in the social sector. 

Coming off of the first year of my MBA program, I was used to talking about markets but had never heard of the “marketplace model” that is core to SIF’s work. This model combines nonprofit capacity building with funder education and engagement to create a “marketplace” where organizations, funders, and volunteers exchange expertise, capital, and other resources to build an intentional social impact community. We are forming this national cohort and set of conversations so that organizations with similar models can begin to learn from one another and amplify this approach. We hope to help build a more authentic and equitable sector that centers the work of BIPOC leaders leading the work in local communities. 

Working with the SIF team, I began the planning and outreach to bring this cohort to life. This is where I took my “road trip” - I conducted a market scan of over 50 organizations, trying to understand their mission and model. We were specifically looking for small, place-based organizations that work with both nonprofits and funders and have an explicit commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. This research phase solidified the cohort’s importance: it proved difficult to locate these types of organizations and the movement to connect these types of organizations is only just emerging. When I got on the phone with nonprofit leaders near and far, I found them eager to connect and deeply passionate about their work, their communities, and the ways they are helping to bring race-centered philanthropic conversations to the forefront. In speaking to these leaders, I saw what makes this cohort unique: these leaders are making a difference in their communities, but this cohort will allow them to zoom out and connect with others doing similar work. I view these peer-to-peer connections and sharing of best practices as a way to fuel a broader movement to improve the impact of all of our organizations.

In these conversations, I learned that “marketplace” doesn’t have just one meaning. Some groups use words like “intermediary” or “ecosystem” or describe themselves as “radical” or “vibrant”; some focus on accelerators while others offer a variety of programming. All of them share a commitment to equitable, place-based work. The similarities and differences between these organizations are what will make this cohort so dynamic, and we can’t wait for these groups to connect and begin learning from one another. 

It has been immensely gratifying to lead the project and see it come to fruition. From first hearing about SIF’s grant application and vision for the cohort to now working to finalize the cohort, I have been able to be involved in all aspects of the project. When I think back to the beginning of the project as I drafted the first few outreach emails, I was unsure what the response from organizations would be. I was pleasantly surprised by the overwhelmingly positive response, and I could immediately feel the impact of our effort. So many organizations are interested that we can already begin to envision ways to broaden the conversation to include others beyond the initial cohort, and we plan to share our learning with the greater community. Seeing the enthusiasm for the project both internally and externally has kept me motivated, and giving updates at SIF staff and board meetings has allowed me to tangibly share this progress with others. Overall, I am grateful for the opportunities and learning. I have been able to gain an inside look at the nonprofit sector as well as build my project management skills.

This summer set the stage for what is to come - and I am so excited for the cohort’s orientation later this fall and for the first meeting in January. I look forward to seeing the insights that emerge - not just the white paper and conference presentations, but the informal connections and partnerships, as well as the broader community we form of “marketplace” organizations. This project is only the beginning, and I can’t wait to see where it goes. 

About the Author: Maggie (she/her/hers) is SIF's Special Project Summer Fellow. In this role, she has worked with the Executive Director on research, outreach, and planning for the launch of a national cohort of “marketplace making” organizations. Maggie is currently pursuing a Social Impact MBA from Boston University Questrom School of Business. 

Read our Press Release Statement on SIF's national learning cohort

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