The Who, What, Where, When, and Why of Track Partnership

SIF’s unique funder partnership model offers learning, network-building, and leveraged impact
Four people in a boat on the Mystic River
Karen Faulkner and Lavina Chase of the Schrafft Charitable Trust take a ride on the Mystic with 2015 Social Innovator Mystic River Watershed Association. Schrafft has used SIF's Track Partnership process to learn about new issues and regions.

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.

One of the most frequently asked questions the Social Innovation Forum receives from people is, “What is a Track Partner?” Since Track Partners play such an important role in our work, we thought it would be helpful to offer this primer on Track Partnership, SIF’s distinctive model for engaging funders and leveraging impact through effective network growth and capacity building.

WHAT is a Track Partner? What do they do?
A Track Partner is a funder, or in some cases a group of funders, who want to increase the impact of their investments within a target social issue area. Track partners provide core support, both financial and hands-on, for our Social Innovator Accelerator, SIF’s flagship 24-month capacity-building program for nonprofit organizations.

WHERE is the track partner’s funding directed?
The Social Innovation Forum is working to create positive social change in greater Boston. All organizations supported by the SIF Accelerator are making a difference locally, in neighborhoods across Boston as well as Lowell, Lawrence, New Bedford, Worcester, and other communities surrounding Boston. 

WHO can be a Track Partner? Are they the same from year to year?
Track Partnership appeals to a wide range of individual philanthropists, family foundations, community foundations, trusts, public charities, and corporations. Each year, we aim to recruit a mix of new and returning funders to maximize learning and ensure a diversity of perspectives and topics are incorporated into each program cycle. 

The Social Innovation Forum wants to be sure our focus is on greater Boston’s most pressing social issues, which means that the process has to be flexible. Sometimes, Track Partners come to SIF with a clear interest area. Other times SIF chooses a topic and recruits a funder or a group of funders to support it. SIF works closely with all track partners to define a funding area that meets their interests and the needs of the community.

WHY do funders become Track Partners? What motivates them?
While motivations can be quite personal, there are some common reasons …

  • Make an impact on the trajectory of an innovative, local nonprofit organization – and the people it serves – in an area that is important to the funder and the community. Now in its fifth year, the Boston Open Impact group has accelerated the progress of five exciting organizations through its sponsorship of the "Anything Goes" Social Issue Track.
     
  • Call attention to a particular social issue in Boston and promote a proven solution to a problem. Christine Kendall and the Gisela B. Hogan Foundation used the Track Partnership process to help shape the foundation's giving strategy in the field of earely childhood eduction.
     
  • Learn from the Social Innovation Forum’s evaluation process. Track Partners have the opportunity to review and discuss applications, interview finalists, and participate in site visits alongside SIF staff, social issue areas experts, practitioners, and other funders. The Women & Girls Funding Collaborative, a group of funders convened by SIF to sponsor a track together, found that the entire process -- from defining the social issue to selecting the Social Innovator -- afforded opportunities for genuine learning. Similarly, this year, the Immigrant & Refugee Funder Collaborative, a group of eight funders, has come together to sponsor a track around immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers.
     
  • Explore a new issue area and immediately have an impact in that sector. For example, after 25 years of focusing their grantmaking on education, the trustees of the Schrafft Charitable Trust partnered with Social Innovation Forum to learn more about urban environmental sustainability by sponsoring a Social Issue Track in that area for several years. More recently, Schrafft has sponsored two tracks focused on the South Coast of Massachusetts as a means of learning about issues affecting that region and raising the profile of effective nonprofits working there.


As a funder, we have found that the experience with SIF has been far deeper than simply supporting a track and a great organization. We believe our work with them has helped us to catalyze our funding strategy and hopefully to begin to change the field of early childhood in Boston.

WHEN do Track Partners commit? Is there availability for new Track Partners?
As of December 2017, we have three Track Partners and topics committed for our 2018-2019 program cycle: refugees, immigrants, and asylum seekers; supporting leaders of color in the environmental arena; and education. We are working with those partners now to further refine the descriptions of their track. Additionally, in an effort to respond to the interests of "next gen" donors and new donors, the Social Innovation Forum is convening a group of next gen and/or new donors to form a collaborative track for the 2018-2019 Nonprofit Accelerator.

We hope to have all of our track partners committed by March of 2018. If you are interested in becoming a track partner we encourage you to begin that conversation soon, as sometimes the process will go into the spring but sometimes our tracks fill up early! Of course, if that happens we are open to holding a track for the following year so please do reach out. 

HOW can you learn more about SIF Track Partnership?
Contact us! 

Quote 1: Christine Kendall, SmarterGive and the Gisela B. Hogan Foundation
Quote 2: Cindy Rubin, Director of the Miriam Fund